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.
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.
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.
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”.)