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

October 15, 2016

Inside the Copper King fire area ~ Part 2

Most of the photos in the previous post showed badly burned places within the area of the Copper King fire. The photos which now follow show many areas within the fire area that escaped the flames and which will help the whole area in its recovery. All photos in these two posts were taken from within the northeast sector of the fire area. The snow-capped peak that shows up in several of the pictures is Thompson Peak which is in the area of the Chippy Creek fire which burned 150 square miles in 2007.

Copper King Fire 21

Copper King Fire 22

Copper King Fire 23

Copper King Fire 24

Copper King Fire 25

Copper King Fire 26

Copper King Fire 27

Copper King Fire 28

Copper King Fire 29

Copper King Fire 30

Copper King Fire 31

Copper King Fire 32

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

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:


Penstemons at the base of a burned Douglas Fir:


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


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

November 1, 2007

Not exactly what I wanted to see

Filed under: Forest fires, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures, Wildland fires — montucky @ 10:40 pm

For the first two hours of today’s hunt, I thoroughly enjoyed walking in the footprints of deer and elk and moose. The temperature was in the 40’s but the wind was strong and cold. For about three miles, I stayed below the ridge tops and hunted the semi-open hillsides where the game would be bedded down out of the wind, resting up for their night time feeding forays.

After making about half of a large circle, it was finally time to cross over the high country and complete the circle back to where the Jeep was parked. On the route I chose, three ridges converged at a peak, and upon reaching it, this is what was there; not exactly what I wanted to see!

Burning slash pile

While it looks like flat, open country in the photo, it is actually just a level area atop a high ridge: the terrain falls off sharply in all directions. This is state land and it was selectively logged during the summer. Apparently a slash pile (tree limbs, branches, smaller trees and brush) had been burned earlier, but it didn’t burn completely and some coals still smoldered deep within the pile. By the time I arrived, the wind had reached about 30 – 35 miles per hour, blowing from right to left in the photo and fanned the coals into a very hot fire. Beyond the clearing and down off the sides of the ridge there were multiple canyons filled with thickets and some old-growth timber; not the place where you would want a fire with that kind of wind! It made an abrupt end to the hunt!

Slash pile fire

After a hard hour’s hike cross-country to the Jeep and a half hour’s drive into the local DNRC to report and locate the fire on their maps, I returned home feeling pleased that I had chosen that particular area to hunt today and had discovered early what could have developed into a very serious problem.

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

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