Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Wildfire Update

Smokey red moon (c) John Ashley
Our reddish moon tonight was caused by smoke particles
scattering away the blue wavelengths.
A smokey moon blushed red and faded from view before reaching the horizon last night. Montana currently has 65 wildfires burning, 21 of them more than 100 acres in size and covering an estimated 52,570 acres. To date, Montana has reported 1,116 human-caused (38,659 acres) and 745 lightning-caused fires (79,495 acres). Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

With a month or so to go in our fire season, Montana is a little bit over the 10-year average for number of fires (1,861 to 1,648). But acreage-wise, we've only burned about one-third of our 10-year average (118,154 to 338,252), so far.

What happens next? With all due respect to the "fighters" and the millions of dollars spent and the prayers sent skyward, it depends entirely on the weather. An early snow and our fire season ends. A late summer and we're smoked.


One hundred and five years ago today, a cold front swept across the Northern Rockies. Hurricane-force winds fanned 1,736 small fires into one or two conflagrations that burned an estimated 3,107,819 acres in Montana and Northern Idaho in just two days -- the Great Fire of 1910. That one burned 265 times the acreage of our current year-to-date total in Montana. Two hundred and sixty-five times more. And that's the year when we became obsessed with pretending to control wildfires.

Pray all you want, spend all you can, and risk thousands of young lives. But the forests will still burn. Always have. It's frustrating, I know, because we like to thump our chest and think that we're above nature. We're not. Fire season in Montana is an annual reminder of the lesson we never seem to learn.