Things have taken a somewhat unexpected turn in our summer season here. Although conventional wisdom was that this would be a bad fire year, I don’t think that anyone truly expected the remarkably rapid proliferation of wildfire that we have experienced in the past few weeks, and especially the past few days. While the majority of the summer work season is behind us, the fires raging across the Scotchman Peaks Proposal have forced us to postpone, amend, or outright cancel many of the upcoming hikes and volunteer opportunities that we were so excited about. The Bonner County Fair, Huckleberry Festival, and recent trail building excursions have all been resoundingly successful due to the dedication and hard work of volunteers, but everyone’s focus, including mine, has shifted to the giant plumes of smoke rising from our beloved wilderness. So rather than talking about our summer agenda, here’s a comprehensive description of the fires inside the Scotchmans based on the latest reports, what is being done about them, and what the Friends are doing to help.
A number of fires are currently alive and well in the Scotchman Peaks Area. The Scotchman’s Peak Fire was last estimated at 2,700 acres, which includes a number of spot fires. Pictures taken this afternoon from an aerial flight over the area show that the fire has likely crested the ridge just south of Scotchman’s Peak. At this point, nobody is quite sure about the rate of spread or how long the fire has been at the ridgeline. Fire activity yesterday spread to the northeast, burning on the east side of the Blue Creek Drainage below Scotchman’s Peak. A Type 3 Incident Management Team (IMT) is currently monitoring the fire (as well as the Whitetail Fire, which together with the Scotchman’s Peak Fire makes up the Clark Fork Complex). A Type 2 IMT will take over management on Thursday. Currently, firefighters are using the confine, contain, point protection strategy. The bottom line is that we really hope that this fire neither moves down the Blue Creek Drainage nor down the southwest face of Scotchman Peak, which holds a lot of timber and the Scotchman’s Peak Trail.
Fires are also burning across the southeast portion of the proposal. The same Type 3 IMT that is managing the fire on Scotchman’s Peak is also managing fires in Hamilton Gulch (150 acres), Star Gulch (100 acres), and three in Napoleon Gulch and on Pillick Ridge, totaling 285 acres. Approximately 100 firefighters are engaged with the Type 3 Incident Management Team, including the Geronimo Hotshot Crew. A Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) is dropping retardant on the Napoleon Gulch fires, and all of the fires are getting bucket drops of water. Efforts are focused on the lower slopes of the potential fire area near private property. The IMT is engaging in structure protection, fuel reduction, hose lays and pumps, public contacts, and more.
As of about 5pm Monday, we know that a 125 acre fire is burning on the western slope of Sawtooth Mountain, deep within the Montana portion of the proposal. A suppression plan is still being developed for this fire. While this fire seems to be currently confined to the steep, cliff-like slopes of Sawtooth, it could become really dangerous should it move down into the Upper Ross Creek Area.
Finally, a number of other fires in the area are worth noting. There is a 200 acre fire on Berray Mountain that the same Type 3 IMT is managing. Three fires in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness are being watched, and are listed as follows: Vimy (7 acres), Chippewa (100 acres), Poplar Point (150 acres). Most other fires in the area are controlled, contained, or out.
The Friends of Scotchman Peaks are eager to help makes the lives of our woodland firefighters a little easier. We are in contact with the leader of the Type 3 IMT that is managing all of these fires, and will shortly know more about what we can do to help support their efforts. Right now we are helping keep a bridge on the Bull River Highway (56) clear of bystanders who want to watch the fires, since it is a main staging area for many of the firefighting efforts in the area. If you would like to help out with our firefighting support efforts, please reach out to me at Nathan@scotchmanpeaks.org or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are postponing all volunteer work events and hikes, and HIGHLY recommend that everyone stays out of the National Forests. The Scotchman Peaks are burning, and you don’t want to be anywhere near. Thank you to everyone that has already offered their help – the brave woodland firefighters here will need all the support that they can get, considering how many fires have appeared recently, and how many resources have been funneled towards Parker Ridge and other massive fire complexes threatening populous areas. This is all of the most up-to-date information that I can find, but things have probably changed since I started writing this, so we will keep relaying information as we receive it ourselves.