Montana Outdoors

October 12, 2016

Inside the Copper King fire area.

At the end of July a fire named the Copper King started not far from my home in western Montana. After burning for two months and covering about 45 square miles it was finally contained about the end of September and the restrictions on entering the area where it burned were removed. Due mostly to adverse weather conditions, today was the first good chance I had to go into the burn area and look around.

This morning a good friend and I hiked for about two miles into the burned area on USFS road 17354 which branches west off USFS road 887 about 4 miles up Todd Creek from the Little Thompson Road. In the valley the temperatures was in the upper 20’s, and when we left the Jeep, at an elevation of about 4400 feet, it was colder and there was about 4 inches of snow still on the ground left from a storm a couple of days ago. Perfect hiking weather!

A forest fire is an awesome event, unpredictable, sometimes seemingly whimsical, and its effects are far from understood by even the “experts”. Fire has always been a part of the existence of the forest and part of its natural order. Its aftermath is fascinating to see.

Following are 20 photos taken today on a hike into the Copper King fire burn. The first photo shows a kind of overview of the variety within the area of a large fire, from areas which were extremely hot to areas where the fire left large swaths of vegetation practically untouched. The other photos are pretty much in sequence as we hiked along the road through one of the areas which suffered intense heat and burning. I will follow up later with another post with photos that show some of the variation of fire effects throughout the rest of the area in which we hiked.

Copper King Fire 1

Copper King Fire 2

Copper King Fire 3

Copper King Fire 4

Copper King Fire 5

Copper King Fire 6

Copper King Fire 7

Copper King Fire 8

Copper King Fire 9

Copper King Fire 10

Copper King Fire 11

Copper King Fire 12

Copper King Fire 13

Copper King Fire 14

Copper King Fire 15

Copper King Fire 16

Copper King Fire 17

Copper King Fire 18

Copper King Fire 19

Copper King Fire 20


  1. As devastating as fire seems to us, and as ugly as its aftermath appears, it really is a natural and crucial component of so many ecosystems. We always take pleasure in seeing how quickly nature rebounds afterwards!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by de Wets Wild — October 12, 2016 @ 7:58 pm

    • Yes, nature begins the regeneration process immediately. In fact today I saw some new green leaves starting to surface through the ash.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — October 12, 2016 @ 8:11 pm

  2. Let’s hope that a couple of years from now, it will all be greening up and the blue grouse will love the new growth.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by wordsfromanneli — October 12, 2016 @ 8:03 pm

    • Yes, it will be green in most areas come spring. Even today we saw lots of small birds throughout the area, possibly taking advantage of some the conifer seeds that the fire released from the cones. There was also an abundance of snowshoe rabbit tracks in the areas that the flames skipped over, and my dog was able to chase a couple of chipmunks that had escaped the heat and fire.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — October 12, 2016 @ 8:15 pm

      • I always feel sorry for all the animals that don’t make it. It’s amazing that any do.


        Comment by wordsfromanneli — October 12, 2016 @ 8:18 pm

        • I think that in most forest fires a lot more animals escape the fire and less perish than we know.


          Comment by montucky — October 12, 2016 @ 8:26 pm

  3. As usual great. Congrats snd thanks.


    Comment by nvsubbaraman — October 12, 2016 @ 8:29 pm

  4. Awesome pictures. Forest fires can be devastating, yet it leaves a nourished and healthy forest.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by heartandsoul974 — October 13, 2016 @ 4:06 am

    • Yes, they are necessary for long term forest health. I am concerned though that in the last several years over half of the fires were human caused. I don’t know how that affects nature’s balance.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — October 13, 2016 @ 8:14 am

  5. Amazing to think that the area was on fire such a short time ago and already its covered in snow and as you said to one commenter, green leaves are already showing.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Vicki — October 13, 2016 @ 4:57 am

    • The snow has been a plus, putting moisture into the ground before winter freezes everything up, although where some of the snow has already melted in the sunny spots there is already evidence of erosion.


      Comment by montucky — October 13, 2016 @ 8:16 am

  6. PS Great series of images too, Terry.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Vicki — October 13, 2016 @ 4:57 am

  7. I guess a burned forest has a beauty all its own. Your dog must be quite the hiker also. I hope you’re right that many animals survive. I can see that the large ones and birds would but who knows about the smaller ones like chipmunks, as you mentioned. It must be frightening for all of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Candace — October 13, 2016 @ 8:09 am

    • It does sound strange, but yes, there is a beauty to the burn area. The parts that were unaffected will flourish and on the burned places there will be new grasses, forbs and shrubs that will be excellent feed for the ungulates, especially elk. I think we wold be surprised at how many of the small animals survive in the overall area. My dog is a very enthusiastic hiker and spent the night resting his nose which sniffed everything he encountered in about 4 hours of hiking.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — October 13, 2016 @ 8:20 am

  8. I noticed what seemed to be smoldering smoke in pictures Copper King #2, #3. Is that what it really is? I guess the snows will help put those little spots out for good.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Ron Mangels — October 13, 2016 @ 9:42 am

    • Yes, there are still areas where some fire is left, and there will be smoldering places for weeks on into winter, especially underground tree roots that won’t see the rain and snow moisture.


      Comment by montucky — October 13, 2016 @ 10:13 am

  9. It looks like it took mostly young trees in that area.
    A lot of people don’t understand how natural a forest fire is and how beneficial it is to the forest. The only thing unnatural is us trying to put them out.
    You got some great shots! I didn’t know you were already seeing 20s though!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by New Hampshire Garden Solutions — October 13, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

    • Our temps have taken some unusual ups and downs this season. The 20’s and teens came from a cold front that moved through: it would have been even colder except that we got good cloud cover while it moved through.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — October 13, 2016 @ 7:16 pm

  10. Ah — I wondered what happened last night with my comment that wasn’t a comment. I was up on top of a mountain, with really erratic wi-fi, and it kicked me off while I was trying to comment on your post! Well, I’m back in the valley now, so things are working better. The photos do have a stark beauty, don’t they? Black and white isn’t so artsy when it’s burned trees and snow, but still — it’s compelling. I’m glad you got back in there, and have the skill to record the reality so well.

    I have a couple of photos to post when I get home that you’ll find of interest. One is a fire lookout tower in the Ouachita mountains, and the other is a photo of an orchid I found today! I still just can’t believe it — but that’s what it is. Never say never, when it comes to finding wonderful things!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by shoreacres — October 13, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

    • I surmised that something unusual happened with your previous comment, Linda; I have removed it.

      It is fascinating to explore the area burned by a forest fire. I have visited those area many times and every time I have come away with a more profound understanding about how a forest really works and at a least a glimmer of what-all a fire does to it and for it.

      Yes, I will be interested in seeing the lookout tower you mentioned. I have visited dozens of towers that still exist and many more mountaintops where towers/cabins have stood in the past and are no longer there. Those are places where one can reflect upon what it must have been like when they were in use, what the country was like then, and the people who worked there… especially the people.

      Isn’t it special to discover an orchid! Every year I get a new thrill when I come upon a wild orchid, even though I have seen members of its species many times in the past.


      Comment by montucky — October 13, 2016 @ 9:35 pm

  11. Beautiful set of photos!
    A friend of mine had a home in the city of Kelowna, BC. They watched (from across the lake) as a forest fire spread through their neighbourhood. When they were finally allowed back into the area, nearly all their neighbours homes were burned to the ground, but their home, and a few others beside them were untouched. It was fascinating to see what happens when a fire is moving very quickly!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Margie — October 13, 2016 @ 8:22 pm

    • Your friend was very fortunate! Burning some things and leaving others untouched is characteristic of a forest fire. It can be heart-wrenching when such a fire burns through an inhabited area! Due to the skill and equipment of the firefighters (and a great deal of luck) there were no injuries and no structures burned in this fire. It was all in a very remote and unapproachable area.


      Comment by montucky — October 13, 2016 @ 9:22 pm

  12. Wow! You made it in and captured some great shots to show us. I’ll be interested to see how different this area will be come spring. Hope you can show us some before and after photos then.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Mama's Empty Nest — October 14, 2016 @ 8:45 am

    • If I can get into the burned area using the Big Hole lookout trail as access, it will be easier to follow up on the progress of the recovery. Within a few days I will try to see if that access will work. We have had about a week of rain already and more forecast for the next week as well, so that will be wet work.


      Comment by montucky — October 14, 2016 @ 9:30 pm

  13. Do a couple of your photos show smoke still smouldering?
    Yes, fires are interesting and we are still learning about them.
    It was interesting to see the growth that happened in a couple fire areas, one year later. Life really does continue on.
    Nice that you got up there before winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Tammie — October 14, 2016 @ 10:04 am

    • Yes there are quite a few places where the fire is still smoldering, mostly in tree roots where it is burning beneath the ground. I was glad to get in there before winter, and I think there will be time for a couple more ventures in there before the snow closes the access roads.


      Comment by montucky — October 14, 2016 @ 9:39 pm

  14. Wonderful series of images. A great devastation took place in this area but Nature is the strongest as your pictures show it. Thank you for sharing all you saw.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by isathreadsoflife — October 20, 2016 @ 10:20 pm

    • It’s all part of Nature’s operations. The complete cycle is so long though that we as individuals don’t get to see all of it.


      Comment by montucky — October 21, 2016 @ 8:09 am

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