Update on the Copper King Fire in Montana

copper king fire

Fire from the air. This was taken 2 weeks ago, when the fire was less than half its current size.

On August 2, I wrote about how fire season had finally arrived in Montana. This is significant because Montana has large pine and fir forests. Every year, there are big fires that destroy a lot of trees, vegetation and wildlife. This is an update about one of those fires, which happens to be burning about 10 miles from where I live.

It should be mentioned that yearly forest fires also spew out vast quantities of air pollutants and carbon dioxide. In fact, in a normal year, forest fires in the US alone produce many times more carbon dioxide than all the CO2 produced by all the people on the whole planet. A lot of effort and expense is put into containing wildfires, though nature’s ability to cause the fires through lightning activity far exceeds our ability to contain them.

Wildfire is a natural process and it does have its value in renewing the forests. However, large fires cause far more damage than people are usually aware of.

This year hasn’t been a normal year. Temperatures have been much cooler and it has been far damper than in an average year. This is apparently part of the cooling trend the media doesn’t want to report on. However, the result is that fire season didn’t begin in June, like normal. In fact, it didn’t start until the last week in July. By that time, the abundant moisture and low temperatures had caused a profusion of grass, weeds and bushes to grow. When it finally got hot and dried out, conditions were prime for large fires (a fire of over 1,000 acres).

As I reported on July 31, one such fire began near here in very rugged terrain. The fire, called the Copper King Fire, was initially reported at 200 acres in size. By Aug 2, it had grown to 700 acres. Over the next week, it grew to about 1,200 acres, which made it a large fire. There was a bit of a reprieve when cool, wet weather again moved into the area for nearly a week. There were additional lightning strikes, but most of the lightning was accompanied with hard downpours of rain, so additional fires were quickly controlled. The rain actually helped firefighters and gave them some hope for containment of the Copper King Fire, despite the difficult and steep country it was burning in.

copper king fire

This gives an idea of the ruggedness of the terrain.

Then about a week ago, we had a return to weather we’d normally see in early July; very hot and very dry. With humidity dropping daily to 12-15% and temperatures exceeding 90 F / 32 C, the forests quickly dried out again. Along with the return of hot weather, thunderstorms also returned, only with less moisture and substantially higher winds. This unfortunately fanned the Copper King Fire into renewed growth.

As of today, August 22, the fire has grown to in excess of 6,900 acres. The forest service is saying that this is an extremely conservative estimate, so it could easily be over 7,500 acres. Of that, 3,000 additional acres have started burning just since yesterday afternoon. More winds are also forecast and red flag warnings have been issued, so it doesn’t get any easier. Humidity levels are expected to drop to as low as 8%, which is exceptionally dry.

copper king fire

One of the gentler slopes.

There are currently 317 people working the fire. Besides the firefighters, there are 14 fire engines, quite a few pieces of heavy equipment, seven water tenders and seven helicopter assigned to this blaze. More equipment and manpower has been requested. Numerous roads have been closed and the Sheriff’s department has now issued evacuation orders for quite a few residences in the area of the fire. Even more home owners have been told to expect evacuation orders. Major power transmission lines are also at risk. Because of today’s red flag warnings, crews have taken fall-back positions because of expected extreme and unpredictable fire movement and behavior.

copper king fire

As viewed from Plains, MT

According to the Sheriff’s department, an emergency shelter has been established in the town of Thompson Falls, at the Thompson Falls High School.

The one bit of good news that has come out of the recent news is that no injuries have been reported in this fire. I sincerely hope that it stays that way.

The information I’m reporting came primarily from the US Forest Service’s Incident Web.

All images are from the US Forest Service and as such, taken in the performance of duty, they are public domain.

I hope that everyone will join me in praying for the firefighters and wishing them well with the hard and extremely dangerous work they are doing to get the upper hand on this fire.

(For those who wonder, we are in no imminent danger, where I live. I’m about 2 miles behind where the photographer was standing when he took the picture that is captioned “As viewed from Plains, MT”.)



  1. Pat Z Anthony

    Fire can do so much damage and as you mention here, the pollutants alone are really something to consider. Although this happens in many places each year, it is still a frightening thing for most.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Absolutely and it is something I keep close tabs on. I’ve been sneezing like crazy for the last couple of hours and it probably has a lot to do with the fire and a wind shift. I still worry most about the men and women who are right there, fighting the fire. I fought fire in my youth, so I have an idea of what they are going through, but the forest fire I was on was definitely not on bad terrain like this. Anyone who works a fire like this who also doesn’t have fear needs to reassess what they are doing there, fighting it. I’m 10 miles away and still do worry, though there is next to no chance that I’ll be threatened, personally.

  2. Gina M. Menorca

    It is with relief that no one was harm. And I thank God that you and your family is safe. I will help in praying for the safety of all the people that is working to save the forest.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      My sincere thanks for your prayers. Their task is tremendously hard. They are literally risking their lives.

  3. Andria Perry

    Stay safe and I see that its a beautiful place where you live.

    I ask God to provide safety and protection to the firemen and all the people behind the scenes.

    I stumbled this article.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Thank you, Angie. It really means a lot. It is so easy for people to forget that it is real people who are trying to help everyone else.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Yes, 7,000 acres are a lot and it can become huge quickly. My prayers are mostly for the people who are putting their lives on the line to help others.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Wow! Thanks for letting me know that it was even mentioned in the news there. I had no idea. As of this morning, the fire has again grown quite a bit. It is now at 12,500 acres and it is the biggest fire burning in Montana right now. At least the temperatures are now getting into a milder pattern for at least a few days, with the highs in the upper 70’s and low 80’s, up to 35% humidity and the winds are supposed to die down to about 10 mph. That is good news to the people fighting this fire.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      In my case, there is more to it than distance. Ten miles is very close, but to reach here, it would need to burn around a few bends in the river and cross part of the valley. OR it would need to burn several miles north, turn due east for several more miles, then burn about 15 miles south to reach us. Neither of those things are likely. The chances aren’t zero, but they are close to it.

    2. Sandy KS

      That is great. It sounds like you are in a good location. I never thought of checking all that out when choosing a home. That would make sense to if it is likely to have a natural disaster in a certain area.

    3. Rex Trulove Post author

      Yes it would, though I didn’t really pick the location based on that. Still, if I had a choice, I wouldn’t want to live in a place that straddled the San Andreas fault or on the flood plain of the Mississippi or in a village on the flanks of Vesuvius or St. Helens… 😀

    4. Rex Trulove Post author

      Incidentally, the evening update is in. The fire is now at over 21,000 acres and still growing. It is mostly burning north by north west, which means that most of the activity is moving away from us are roughly toward Canada and the northern tip of the Idaho panhandle.

    5. Sandy KS

      Glad to hear is moving away from your area. How much forest normally burns each year?

    6. Rex Trulove Post author

      It varies greatly from year to year and state to state. This isn’t a bad year for fire in Montana, but in a normal year, probably 100,000 to 150,000 acres of forest are destroyed in wildfires. Last year, there were bad fires in Alaska that burned close to a half million acres. The news didn’t say much about them because they were in unpopulated areas. Three years ago, during a bad fire year here, about 330,000 acres burned in Montana.

      Right now, the Copper King fire I’ve been mentioning is larger than all the other fires burning in Montana, combined.

      This mornings update didn’t include the updated acreage figures, but we had thunderstorms move through that dropped a lot of rain in a short amount of time, so that helps. Roughly 60 firefighters are bivouacking at our church to sleep in shifts. As one shift comes in, one leaves to work on the fire. One of the firefighters told me today that the biggest problem is that most of the area is too steep to get to, so there isn’t much they can do in those areas.

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