Overwintering fires are a concern in Northern Rockies

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Satellite photo fires British Columbia

Above: Satellite photo taken August 2, 2017 showing smoke from some of the wildfires in British Columbia. The red dots represent heat detected by a sensor on the satellite

After the very large wildfires that burned across great swaths of the Northern Rockies last summer in the United States and Canada, firefighters are concerned about those that could have survived the snow-covered ground and be given a new life as the weather warms. Fires that burned extremely hot due to an accumulation of fuels or drier than normal ground cover, may hibernate in organic soils that provide a continuous supply of fuel.

Hot spots that outlive the snow and have access to warmer temperatures and more oxygen will often emerge to find themselves surrounded by thousands of acres of blackened forest. These are not a problem since they can’t spread, but the sudden appearance of smoke where there had not been any for more than half a year can be a distracting nuisance.

Of greater concern are the ones that materialize on the edge of a fire where there is abundant access to unburned vegetation. Firefighters want the public to report all smokes. Yes, there may be some false positives if they are in the middle of a fire from the previous year, but they desperately want to hear about potentially dangerous overwintering fires.

Andy's Hump Fire, Idaho
Andy’s Hump Fire, Idaho, September, 2017. Inciweb.

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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.