Seedlings sprout after Roaring Lion fire
HAMILTON, Mont. - Almost a year after fire raced through Roaring Lion south of Hamilton there is evidence of recovery.
The fire burned through the Bitterroot National Forest and onto private landholdings. About 8,000 acres were burned and 16 houses were lost.
Peter Kolb is a PhD forestry specialist with the Montana State University Extension Service.
He works in Missoula.
He said homeowners who thinned their property of excess trees prior to the fire are seeing seedlings sprout.
On Wednesday, the scientist met with homeowner Dick Tourangeau in Roaring Lion. Tourangeau's house and surrounding property were spared by the fire.
Tourangeau thinned the trees on his place 15-years ago. His trees were scorched but many of the seeds in the large ponderosa pine cones survived.
"Under these scorched surface fire burned areas," said Dr. Kolb, "are literally millions of ponderosa pine seedlings germinating."
"This unusually cool wet spring," he said," prompted a bumper crop."
Kolb said they are so thick that it is essential that the vast majority of the seedlings be thinned to allow just a few trees so they can grow up with enough space, light and access to nutrients to be healthy.
Across the road from the Tourangeaus it's a different story.
On that side you see evidence of a massive crown fire. All of those trees are dead and none of their seed sources survived.
That area had not been thinned. That crown fire jumped to Tourangeau's place. But Kolb said because the homeowner had thinned his property it dropped to a surface fire.
"Trees on his property survived the fire," he said, "because the fire was not able to continue to burn as an active crown fire."
"We attribute that in good part to having saved our house," said Tourangeau,"although we did have a green grass area around the house and the fire on the ground burned right up to that green grass and stopped there."
Kolb said there is also visible evidence that many of the homeowner's trees are seeing new life.
They are scorched but at the top of the trees there are new green needles."
"Branches that survived, even though the needles were scorched will actively drop injured needles," said Kolb. "So when we saw the crowns of trees dropping needles it gave us an indication that the crowns had survived the fire."
That isn't the case across the road where it's still filled with dense blackened trees from last year's crown fire.
Kolb said those trees that are completely black and those still holding onto their orange needles are dead.
Eventually he said most of them will fall down.
"It probably needs to be replanted to ponderosa pine or other desired species on the site," he said.
Some of the private land affected by the Roaring Lion is being logged. Kolb said that timber is deteriorating rapidly. He said before it turns to pulp it needs to he harvested soon, probably within six months at most.