The Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake has exploded the past few days, as it merged with the Reef Fire and is now nearly 120,000 acres in size. Fire Information Officer Mike Cole says the costs of fighting Rice Ridge are also exploding.

"It's going up pretty high," Cole said. "It is pushing $31 million now. I'd say if it keeps going the way it has been burning it will equal or exceed the Lolo Peak Fire because it has a lot of area to cover and when it has been getting up with the wind it's burning 1,000 acres per hour at times."

The Lolo Peak Fire is currently the most expensive fire ever fought by an Incident Management team in Montana, It crossed the $30 million mark over a week ago. Cole who has worked on both fires believes the Lolo Peak Fire also poses more danger to homes.

"Just because of the way the fires burn in the Bitterroot, they usually move down those canyons and out into the valleys if they get any kind of wind behind them. Luckily, we're a little more protected here in Seeley Lake. That doesn't mean that you can't have squirrely winds up behind the town here, but you don't have that big effect that you have from those westerlies topping out over the Bitterroot crest and  draining down into those valleys where they can pick up speed before they come out in the canyons."

Both fires have been significantly impacted by thick smoke and an inversion early this week which has caused helicopters to be grounded by low-visibility at times when they would otherwise be able to help fight the fires.

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