(CN) — Ray Swan sat on the bumper of his car Friday in Glacier National Park in Montana while his wife and friend packed their belongings.
Heavy smoke from nearby wildfires filled the valley around Lake McDonald as the few tourists who remained were loading their cars and heading out.
“I'm having so much trouble breathing, it's ridiculous,” said Swan, who has emphysema and COPD. “That's the only reason we're leaving now.” He and his wife, Judy, traveled from St. Cloud, Minnesota, to visit Glacier National Park, as the couple has done for the last 18 years.
“Normally it would be completely beautiful this time of year,” he said.
On Sunday, authorities evacuated portions of the western area of the park after the Sprague Creek forest fire blew up. The blaze destroyed Sperry Chalet, one of the park's storied backcountry chalets, built in the early 1900s for wealthy tourists to stay in comfort in the Montana wilderness.
Montana is having its worst fire season in history, and there's no end in sight – other than an early snowfall that might help extinguish the blazes.
But while all eyes are on Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey, the West burns. Lightning storms in July sparked dozens of fires that quickly grew out of control.
Montana is not alone. Several states in the West are having one of their worst fire seasons in decades. Ray Swan felt it firsthand. From Oregon to Montana “we were in smoke the whole time,” he said.
The Treasure State leads the West in acres burned, at 980,887 so far. Seeley Lake, a resort town that relies on summer tourism, shut down a month ago as the Rice Ridge fire took off in the nearby Lolo National Forest. That fire has now burned over 122,000 acres.
Western states had wet springs, and the grass that grew high dried out. Forests at higher elevations are dry as well, leaving plenty of fuel for wildfires according to Bryan Henry, a manager at the National Interagency Fire Center.
Summer lightning storms have dumped less rain than usual, and weather conditions kept the humidity low - creating a natural tinderbox in many states.
"It was kind of a bad combination of things," Henry said.
By Thursday, more than 76 large fires were burning in nine Western states including 21 in Montana and 18 in Oregon, according to the interagency fire center.
So far this year, wildfires have burned more than 12,500 square miles nationwide. In the past decade, only two years were worse at this point in the wildfire season: 2015 and 2012.
In 2015, a record 15,800 square miles burned. In 2012, 14,600 square miles were scorched.
More than 26,000 people are fighting the fires, backed by more than 200 helicopters, 1,800 trucks and 28 air tankers dropping water and fire-retardant slurry. Three of those tankers are military C-130 planes.
The military has also assigned surveillance aircraft and at least 200 active-duty soldiers to fight fires, and the National Guard has been called out in at least four states – California Montana, Oregon and Washington state.
"We're stretched thin," Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the interagency fire center, said.
While a majority of the state's fires are on federal land, Montana is strapped for cash to help fight this year's fires on its own lands, or to provide firefighting resources to the feds.