Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fire Season in Montana

It's fire season here in Montana. Up to now there have not been serious blazes. Scorching fires have been reserved for our friends in states and provinces to the west, but here and there, small fires are cropping up.

Just this afternoon, lightening in a passing thunderstorm most likely ignited the wildfire that started up in the Hyalite drainage, south of town. That area is important to Bozeman because it is the source of much of the city's drinking water. It's called the Lick Creek fire. Here is the incident report, courtesy of the US Forest Service, reporting out of the Gallitan National Forest.

Incident Overview

View of Lick Creek Fire, south of Bozeman

Bozeman, MT –The Custer Gallatin National Forests has confirmed one fire in Hyalite, in the vicinity of Lick Creek, north of the trail. Resources are on scene including a full load of smokejumpers (8), four heli-rappellers and Engine 661 with four firefighters, from Bozeman Ranger District. The fire is located along the ridgetop burning in timber.
Fire Name: Lick Creek Fire
Date Detected: July 29, 2014
Cause: Unknown
Location: Hyalite Canyon, North of Lick Creek Trail along the ridgetop. T4S, R6E, Sec 3
Current Size: 0.6 acres (with multiple spots)
Resources Assigned: Engine 661 with 4 firefighters, 8 smokejumpers, 2 helicopters requested (with a load of 4 heli-rappellers).
Current Status: Smokejumpers jumped the fire at approximately 3:20 p.m., an additional engine crew with four firefighters are hiking into the fire and 4 heli-rappellers recently arrived on the fire. Currently the fire is burning along the ridgetop.
Closures: No closures in effect
Remarks: No structures currently threatened.

Because of the drinking supply issue, they are jumping (literally) right on top on this one, whereas, they would normally be in a monitor and wait mode. To this point, helped by a wetter than normal June, the few fires that started locally have smoldered themselves out within a matter of hours or a few days.

Fires are a natural phenomenon with many beneficial effects. 

The Forest Service has this to say about an ongoing wildfire on the Crow Agency, over in the southeast corner of Montana. 

July 28 Noon - Fire Effects Can Improve Habitat

Incident: Lodge Grass Basin Wildfire
Released: 1 day ago
The 167 acre Lodge Grass Basin fire has smoldered for several days now on the walls of Lodge Grass Canyon, where many Crows have hunted elk. Most of the area it burned still has live trees: fire just cleaned up the sparse grass and brush under the timber. Helicopters worked through the weekend dropping water on smokes still showing in the cliffs.
Far from “destroying” the canyon, low-intensity fires sometimes improve habitat for elk and other wildlife. The effects of a wildfire depend on how fiercely it moves. Most hillsides burned in the Lodge Grass Basin fire received only gentle scorching. The canyon may hold even more vegetation and color next spring than it did before the fire. Small amounts of ash are like fertilizer; they release minerals into the soil. A more intense fire or slow smoldering can incinerate trees, cause erosion or even sterilize soil for a while, but life tends to return in nature. The Yellowstone fires of 1988 are now forests of 25-foot lodgepole pine trees.

Large critters tend to live around the boundaries between open and wooded areas. Open grass provides food, and forest provides cover. A relatively gentle, low-intensity fire such as Lodge Grass Basin creates those forest boundaries, called a mosaic burn. So do the thousands of acres of prescribed fires that Crow Agency BIA has conducted in the Reservation’s mountains since 2001.

Fuels specialists, who study these effects, call irregular fires such as Lodge Grass Basin “mosaics” to recognize the ecological benefits of wildfire. The mountains are naturally full of mosaics. Some meadows are actually spots where fires burned intensely a few generations ago.

Authorities are protecting structures around the Lodge Grass Basin Wildfire, but otherwise are minimally controlling the burn.

We blogged on the 1988 Yellowstone fire late last summer, and chronicled the local fire season, including the Obama administration's square-quester histrionics. Minus the square-quester tactics, which have faded into oblivion, we will be blogging again on the progress of the fire season as July turns into August. 

Its been a wet year. We have plenty of green. But these things can merge and grow. Til later.

Lick Creek fire, photo courtesy US Forest Service.

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