Experts explore NorthWestern Energy's possible liability in river and wildfire damages

AMANDA EGGERT Montana Free Press

Nov. 30 just might go down as one of NorthWestern Energy’s worst days since it took over Montana Power Co.’s electricity generation and transmission assets in 2002.

The day marked the start of the West Wind fire, which burned 25 homes and six commercial buildings in Denton, a small agricultural community southeast of Great Falls. It was also the day a malfunction at a dam run by NorthWestern malfunctioned, rapidly dewatering one of the state’s most popular fisheries for nearly 48 hours.

NorthWestern, the South-Dakota based utility serving two-thirds of Montana’s energy consumers, has said one of its power lines may have started the West Wind Fire, and it operates Hebgen Dam on the Madison River, where a gate malfunction drove streamflows well below record lows, leading to concerns about short- and long-term ecological and economic repercussions.

In this file photo, NorthWestern Energy technicians work to repair power lines and restore power to the town of Denton.

THOM BRIDGE, Independent Record

Though it will be months and possibly years before the full impact of those events

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