Beetle-killed trees affect fire behavior in Montana

The Missoulian has an article about how beetle-killed trees affected fire behavior in Montana this summer. Here is an excerpt:

For [Tyler] Brothers and pilot Matt Conant above the Bielenburg fire, the afternoon of Sept. 26 just wouldn’t quit. Even the smoke was weird.

“For some odd reason, when it got to highway, it would lift up over the highway, and then curl back down,” Brothers said of the smoke column. “People were thinking it was spotting over the highway, eight miles away.”

And then, Brothers saw the Racetrack campground, and two trucks parked there.

The wind was gusting over 40 mph, knocking the helicopter around. The fire was a mile from the campground and moving that way fast. Fire incident commander Jon Agner ordered the helicopter crew to find the campers and prepare them for evacuation. Powell County Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Cain also drove into the woods to lead them out.

The firefighters lost radio contact with Cain. Fire burned over the Racetrack campground. Brothers eventually found Cain, two fathers and two kids three miles farther into the forest, where they were surrounded by beetle-killed trees and no safety zone. Agner was able to drive up the drainage and lead the group down the blackened road.

As evening came on and the fire calmed down, Brothers made another mapping circuit of the fire. This time, he saw a truck parked at a small Forest Service cabin still farther up the Racetrack drainage. A big tree had fallen across the truck’s bed, immobilizing it.

The helicopter crew scouted several ATV trails that wove amongst the lakes at the head of the drainage, but couldn’t find the truck’s occupants before darkness forced them back to base. Forest Service law enforcement rangers had to drive up the road in the dark to find the two campers, cut their truck free and lead them out. The ground was so hot, it scorched the paint on their vehicles.


Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.