All that smoke in the North Fork today is from the Copper King Fire near Thompson Falls in the Lolo National Forest. The blaze has been burning in high, rugged terrain for better than three weeks. Dry, windy conditions added several hundred acres to the fire since yesterday (it’s now at 6908 acres officially) and brought some of the smoke up here.
Rick and Susie Graetz (they bring a geography class to the North Fork each year) have a fascinating article in the Hungry Horse News about the Great Burn area in the Lolo National Forest . . .
Stephen Pyne’s vivid description of the summer from hell that visited the forests of the northern Bitterroot Divide on the Montana/Idaho border in 1910 goes like this:
“Winds felled trees as if they were blades of grass; darkness covered the land; firewhirls danced across the blackened skies like an aurora borealis from below; the air was electric with tension, as if the earth itself was ready to explode into flames. And everywhere people heard the roar, like a thousand freight trains crossing a thousand steel trestles.”
From May through August of that year, little rain fell and the snow had disappeared from southern slopes by April. Vegetation was rendered tinder dry. In July, hundreds of fires, some lightning caused but most by careless people, were burning.
Lots of lightning Wednesday night, but not much action in western Montana . . .
Wednesday night’s lightning storm didn’t do as much damage as it appeared in western Montana, but eastern Idaho wilderness areas got pounded.
“The Clearwater (Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest) picked up 41 new starts,” said Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay. “That’s where a lot of our smoke is coming from today.”
In contrast, U.S. Forest Service land in the Bitterroot Valley only recorded six new fires out of roughly 400 lightning strikes that hit over a five-hour period. Bitterroot crews and a helicopter also assisted Hamilton firefighters with a 200-acre grass fire off Sleeping Child Road that was declared out about midnight Wednesday.