Montana Outdoors

August 6, 2010

Thompson Peak (4)

As is the case on many of the tall mountains in this area, the top of Thompson Peak is very rocky, as is the ridge that leads to the summit. Despite the very high temperatures in the middle of the fire, the expanses of rock did provide a certain amount of fire-break and there some of the forest was spared. It will be a big help with the regeneration of that part of the forest.

Trail 291 to Thompson Peak

Trail 291 to Thompson Peak

Trail 291 to Thompson Peak

Trail 291 to Thompson Peak

Trail 291 to Thompson Peak

Trail 291 to Thompson Peak

From trail 291

This scene looks down at Little Thompson Peak and shows a pocket of trees that was sheltered from the flames by the rocky peak itself. Seeds from there will start replanting the nearby areas.

Little Thompson Peak

August 5, 2010

Thompson Peak (3)

The middle part of the trek to Thompson Peak followed the TeePee Creek trail 1309. It also traversed what had been a very hot part of the fire. I’m glad I was not there when it burned! A desire to see the top and a faith that there would be more than burned trees made this part tolerable.

On the TeePee trail 1309

On the TeePee trail 1309

On the TeePee trail 1309

It's a big job!It’s a start!

On the TeePee trail 1309

On the TeePee trail 1309

Even in the burnEven in the burn

On the TeePee trail 1309

On the TeePee trail 1309

Someone, perhaps in an answer to his own question, left these markings to show the trail which then became the Cook Mountain trail 291 and followed the ridge between Cook Mountain, Little Thompson Peak and Thompson Peak. The ridge was a break point in the fire and sheltered a sizable area from most of the flame.

Trail markings ?!

August 4, 2010

Thompson Peak (2)

As the access road to Thompson Peak entered the burn area, still about eight miles from the trail head, a stand of Fireweed stood beside the road to greet any visitors with the message, “It’s OK now; the recovery is already underway”. This prolific plant with its pretty purple blossoms is one of the first plants to start the renewal process after a big fire. It will flourish in profusion for many years until the new growth of trees starts to block out the sun, and even then it will bloom in the clearings. It is just now beginning its blooming season and much of the low green in the following photos are its leaves: in a week or so the understory will turn purple.

Fireweed

In this, as in any forest fire, there are islands within the burn that were spared, perhaps at a whim of the wind, or the relative shelter that a ravine provided from the fire storm and many of these can be seen in the photos. Some areas have had very little new plant growth at all. In these areas the heat was so intense it sterilized the ground. Recovery there will take much longer.

The photos that follow are scenes in the order in which I encountered them, an awkward appearing mix of devastation, of burned trees, of flowers and oases in a desert of black, and I offer them simply as glimpses of the pretty things and the ugly ones that exist inside a big burn.

Along trail to Thompson Peak

Along trail to Thompson Peak

Along trail to Thompson Peak

Along trail to Thompson Peak

Along trail to Thompson Peak

Along trail to Thompson Peak

Along trail to Thompson Peak

The tall mountain in the background of the following photo is Baldy Mountain from which I was able to take many photos of the Chippy Creek Fire. If any one is interested in seeing more pictures of the fire, you may click on one of the photos and it will take you to my Flickr site where there is a set of photos called “Chippy Creek Fire”: or, on the right sidebar of my blog page there is a category “Chippy Creek Fire” and clicking on that will take you to a bunch of posts and photos that were posted when the fire was burning.)

Along trail to Thompson Peak

July 2, 2009

The restoration

A few days ago, while searching for a location in which to cut next winter’s firewood supply, I chose to visit the area burned by the Chippy Creek fire in the Cabinet Mountains of western Montana. It burned for nearly all the month of August in 2007 and blackened an area of 150 square miles, 10 miles wide and 15 miles long. This photo was taken on August 4 of 2007 from a distance of about 6 miles only a few days after it began.

Chippy Creek Fire

The area I visited on Tuesday was located over the ridge and just about under the center of those tall smoke columns and was pretty thoroughly burned. As She always does, Nature immediately began the process of healing and regeneration, and in admiration I see that She has not forgotten how important the beauty of wildflowers is through the process.

One of the first wildflowers to grow in a burn, Fireweed beginning its blossom period:

Fireweed

Penstemons at the base of a burned Douglas Fir:

Penstemons

Fireweed in it’s bud stage and Penstemons with a section of the fire-killed trees in the background:

Penstemons

In a couple of our lifetimes or a brief moment in Nature’s eternity the forest will be completely whole again.

October 22, 2007

Chippy Creek fire revisited

One week ago the last of the access roads into the area of the Chippy Creek fire were re-opened and so yesterday I was able to make my first brief visit into one small part of the burned area near Thompson Peak for a few photos.

The fire started on July 31, 2007 and burned from the west, ten miles east across the Cabinet Mountain range, then spread fifteen miles north and south, consuming a total of one hundred and fifty square miles. On August 14th from a mountain ten miles to the south of Thompson Peak I took this photograph which shows the smoke column from the fire then burning in this exact area:

Chippy Creek Fire

Following are a few scenes of the southwest slope of Thompson Peak photographed yesterday, showing where all that smoke came from. As with any large forest fire, there are areas within its borders where the vegetation was totally consumed, other areas where the flames swept through too rapidly to burn everything but hot enough to kill the trees, and a few small areas which escaped with only minor damage.

Chippy Creek Fire

Chippy Creek fire

Chippy Creek fire

Chippy Creek fire

Chippy Creek fire

August 15, 2007

Aerial firefighting

For many years forest fires have been fought by air using helicopters dropping buckets of water and very large aircraft dropping huge amounts of fire-retarding slurry. The helicopters (like this one) can be based very close to the fire and attack quickly, filling their drop buckets from nearby lakes or rivers and if none are near, from water tanks set up by ground crews.

Fire helicopter

The large aircraft however, need a large airfield for refueling and refilling their tanks and usually that airfield is many miles away from the fire.

Recently small single engine aircraft have been added to the arsenal. They don’t carry as much slurry, but they need only a small airfield and can be deployed very quickly. They are now often used for immediate attack on new fires and on larger fires which are impossible to attack with the larger planes. There are several being used on the Chippy Creek fire and they are based at the small airfield in Plains Montana where they are only about 15 air miles from the fire. The sequence in the following 4 photographs demonstrates their use.

The huge plume of smoke in this photo coming from behind the peak is the result of the fire crowing in that area. The wind will fairly soon drive it over the ridge.

Chippy Creek fire

This is a close-up of the peak. Red from previous slurry drops can be seen on the bare rocky area. They are now dropping slurry ahead of the fire, on this side of the ridge. This probably means that the fire managers have conceded the ridge to the fire and are preparing an area on this side of it where they can start backfires and stop its progress at that point.

Chippy Creek fire

This little single engine slurry plane is headed for the area.

Fire fighting aircraft

Here is what his slurry drop looked like:

Chippy Creek fire

Here’s another photo of one of the planes from a different angle as he prepares a drop on a different section of the fire:

Fire fighting aircraft

And here is what his drop looked like:

Chippy Creek fire

These tiny aircraft seem to be very effective and I’ll bet they are a lot of fun to fly!

(These photos were taken on day 14 of the Chippy Creek fire in the Cabinet Mountains of Western Montana. It has now burned 82,160 acres or 128 square miles and is still growing.)

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