Area of Lolo Peak Fire hasn't burned in at least 140 years


FLORENCE, Mont. - A fire scientist with Greg Poncin's Type 1 team said fire hasn't touched the area where the Lolo Peak Fire is burning for at least 140 or 150 years.

Even the massive fires that swept the west in 1910 spared the area now burning.

Many of the snags and fallen timber have fuel moisture levels as low as 10 percent, which is comparable to kiln-dried lumber.

LaWen Hollingsworth is a long-term fire analyst. She said there are no records of significant fires in the acreage now burning nor in the area wrapping around Carlton Ridge. But she said there are records of smaller fires to the south of the current fire area in the Bitterroot from 1889 to 1930.

And, of course, the Lolo Creek Fire burned thousands of acres in a different area near Highway 12 in 2013.

Hollingsworth said the condition of vegetation in the current fire area shows it to be an over-mature forest.

"Meaning," she said, "that it has been an amount of time since fire or any other types of disturbance happened in that area."

She said the Forest Service has no records of logging in the area either.

"They would have had a tough time," said Hollingsworth, "because it's pretty darn steep."

Many records go back to the 1880s.

Hollingsworth said the fire area has stands of mostly dead white bark pine snags.

"There are a lot of logs from this over-mature stand," she said, "that have already fallen over and are contributing to the fuels on the ground."

She said there are live subalpine fir stands.

"The reason we focus on subalpine fir," she said, "is because of the potential for spotting from that species."

The long-term fire analyst said there is some beetle kill in areas with a mix of tree species. There are also mature dry shrubs and undergrowth.

Hollingsworth said, "We know that the conditions are there to continue to carry fire through this whole area."

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