Montana Outdoors

October 25, 2016

Inside the Copper King fire area ~ Part 3

After leaving the Big Hole Lookout, we hiked due west on the Bay State Creek trail (USFS trail 1268). The first two photos were taken of the trail in the first mile west of the lookout through what is still virgin timber that remains after the fire. The third was perhaps another half mile just before encountering the burn area of the fire where it crossed the ridge on its way north. There must have been a lot of retardant dropped along that edge of the fire, first noticeable when I saw my boot tracks turn red as they pressed the snow down into some of the remaining retardant.

Copper King fire 33

Copper King fire 34

Copper King fire 35

On one of the days in the early part of the fire the weather produced a very strong south wind that pushed the fire to the north across the ridge. Before seeing the area I had thought that we would encounter a huge burned area extending far to the west. Instead, there was a swath of no more than about a quarter of a mile wide that must have looked like a huge blow torch when he fire burned through. That wind may well have saved the lookout and a lot of devastation to the east of it because it must have pushed the fire through that swath so fast that it burned practically nothing on either side until it went over the ridge, sparing the forest on either side. The transition from untouched forest to completely burned timber was an area of only perhaps 30 yards. The next 7 photos were taken within that area.

Copper King fire 36

Copper King fire 37

Copper King fire 38

Copper King fire 39

Copper King fire 40

Copper King fire 41

Copper King fire 42

I took many more pictures as we walked through the burn, but they all looked the same. One last step in the severe part of the burn, then about ten more and suddenly we were in completely untouched timber again. The last two photos show the short transition from the burned area back to virgin forest to the west of it. At that point we had just enough time remaining to hike back to the trail head before dark. I still hope to be able to make one more trip up there before the deep snow comes just to hike a couple more miles to the west and see what the fire may have done that far west.

Copper King fire 43

Copper King fire 44


  1. That seems like odd behavior for a fire but they’re unpredictable at the best of times. I’m glad there were no houses and people in the way.
    I’d rather see the snow in your photos than on the ground but we had flurries today so it probably won’t be long.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by New Hampshire Garden Solutions — October 25, 2016 @ 3:46 pm

    • It was certainly not what I expected.
      We are having snow off and on in the high country, but not even flurries yet in the valley, only rain. I’m happy with that though because the trees are getting a good drink before they go into the dry winter “desert” conditions.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — October 25, 2016 @ 3:59 pm

  2. The last image looks quite surreal in the sudden line between burnt and unburnt. I’m sure it’ll regenerate as soon as Mother Nature aspires to bring it on.


    Comment by Vicki — October 26, 2016 @ 6:04 am

    • Yes, that narrow corridor should regenerate quickly with all of the healthy flora so close on each side.


      Comment by montucky — October 26, 2016 @ 7:56 am

  3. That really is something. I suspect factors in addition to wind were at play, but that’s just a guess. Wind alone could explain it. It’s rather like the results of severe tornadoes, where all four walls of a house are down, but a china cabinet still stands in the dining room with the crystal intact. I did get some photos of the recent burn on the Kansas prairie, and some very interesting shots of the regeneration already taking place–two weeks after the burn. I also got some shots of an Arkansas forest fire, where it looks as though a season or two has passed. They’re quite interesting, too. I need to get home so I can start posting some of this stuff! I’m on my way, now. Like an old workhorse headed for the barn, there’s no stopping — plan to be home on Saturday.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by shoreacres — October 26, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

    • I will look forward to seeing your photos of those fires as well as photos from the rest of your trip. Have a safe return home!


      Comment by montucky — October 26, 2016 @ 9:51 pm

  4. Great photos. I think the snow helps to hide some of the fire’s ugliness.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by wordsfromanneli — October 26, 2016 @ 9:36 pm

    • Yes, without the snow, those pictures within the fire area would have been all black.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — October 26, 2016 @ 9:46 pm

      • But it will look better in the spring.


        Comment by wordsfromanneli — October 27, 2016 @ 8:52 am

        • I think a few plants will start to show up by summer, but that corridor was severely burned. I will be going up to see, but I doubt that it will be possible to access that area until late June at the earliest.

          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by montucky — October 27, 2016 @ 9:24 am

          • Some of the lower (quite low) elevations that suffered burns from the fires two years ago in the Okanagan, are starting to green up now and look much better (except for the black stalks of trees and bushes that were burned up).

            Liked by 1 person

            Comment by wordsfromanneli — October 27, 2016 @ 10:46 am

            • I expect the low growing things will recover quickly in most places in this fire, but of course the larger species of trees will take a couple of centuries to reach maturity even if they start seedlings next spring.

              Liked by 1 person

              Comment by montucky — October 27, 2016 @ 7:19 pm

              • But this is the time the grouse love it for the new berry bushes, etc., right?

                Liked by 1 person

                Comment by wordsfromanneli — October 27, 2016 @ 11:17 pm

                • Well, it opens up some of the forest for the development of low-growing plants. That area has been very good for blue grouse all along. The new openings will be very good for elk, with the new growth of some of the forbs that they need and still plenty of thick forest for security.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  Comment by montucky — October 28, 2016 @ 8:16 am

                • I guess it will take time.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  Comment by wordsfromanneli — October 28, 2016 @ 9:19 am

  5. I wonder what the retardant does to the environment, still there……
    Fires are interesting events.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Tammie — October 28, 2016 @ 11:42 am

    • My understanding is that the retardant is not harmful to vegetation and in fact has a lot of fertilizer in it. Not sure about its safety on water sources though.


      Comment by montucky — October 28, 2016 @ 7:11 pm

  6. These are great! Love you! ♡

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Juls — November 1, 2016 @ 9:55 am

  7. Interesting fire pattern. I see that someone else made tracks through the retardant before you did.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Candace — November 5, 2016 @ 1:38 pm

    • Those are the tracks of my constant companion who, as it turns out, loves those back country hikes just as much as I do.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — November 5, 2016 @ 7:39 pm

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