From my house in Whitefish, three miles away from the ski area as the crow flies, I can't see Big Mountain anymore. I can't even see that there are mountains here. It's hard to see the sun, too; an apocalyptic, blood-red orb sometimes emerges above the horizon at dawn and dusk. What I can see: a thick wall of dingy, doomsday haze. Walk outside, and you're choking on smoke. That’s not dandruff in your hair, it’s ash that fell from the sky. Welcome to wildfire season in ski country.
The mountains just outside town aren't burning, but it seems like everything else is—fires have forced evacuations in Northwest Montana and throughout the West. Currently, 82 active large fires are burning more than 1.47 million acres across 10 Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. When measured by acreage torched, this is the nation's second-biggest fire season in the last decade—despite a snowy, wet winter.
Wildfires are essential to Western ecology, playing a regenerative role in the landscape's natural life cycle. But this season's hellfire blaze, like 2015's, is a mighty beast, thanks to extreme hot and dry weather trends—that's part of our rapidly changing climate—as well as varying strategies of fuel management on public lands (and kids with fireworks).
The effects on human communities are widespread. Warnings discourage physical activity because the air quality is “very unhealthy” and “hazardous,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Feds have denied requests from state leaders for emergency funding, and so these fires are also consuming public lands budgets. Tourism, logging, ranching, and agricultural industries are already taking hits, too.
The rains (not to mention the snows) can’t come to these areas soon enough.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the biggest active large fire incidents in the nation, with estimates of their footprint, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center’s incident management situation report issued on September 8. POWDER would like to thank all the fire crews wrangling with these blazes across the country.
Washington's Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is experiencing multiple timber fires with active behavior, including the 45,433-acre Norse Peak Fire, which forced the closure of Crystal Mountain Ski Resort due to smoke. The 26,325-acre Jolly Mountain fire is 13 miles northwest of Cle Elum, and the 6,782-acre Uno Peak fire is 16 miles northwest of Manson. The 1,449-acre American fire is 11 miles west of Cliffdell has reported moderate fire behavior.
In Oregon, the Eagle Creek timber fire, one mile south of Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, is burning near the border of Washington and Oregon. After merging with Mount Hood’s Indian Creek fire, it has grown to 33,382 acres and consumed four structures.
The Umpqua North Complex, composed of seven active fires, is burning 39,298-acres of timber, brush, and grass 50 miles east of Roseburg, on the Umpqua National Forest. There is also minimal fire behavior in the forest's Falcon Complex.
A series of incidents with moderate fire behavior are also burning in Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. This includes the Chetco Bar timber and brush fire, located 16 miles west of Selma, on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. It has spread to 177,301 acres, claiming 30 structures. The High Cascades Complex, nine miles northwest of Prospect, is reported at 54,820 acres. The 33,936-acre Miller Complex is seeing moderate fire behavior.
A number of fires are exhibiting moderate or minimal activity on the Willamette National Forest, including the 29,157 7-acre Horse Creek Complex, as well as the Whitewater, Rebel, Potato Hill, Nash, Jones, and Stanley fires.
Multiple timber fires are burning on the Kootenai National Forest, including the 18,316-acre Caribou fire, 21 miles northwest of Eureka, which has consumed 40 structures. Now reporting moderate fire behavior,the Gibraltar Ridge fire, seven miles east of Eureka, is at 7,287 acres; the West Fork fire, seven miles north of Libby, is at 7,337 acres; and the Moose Peak fire, 13 miles east of Trout Creek, is at 5,717 acres.
A number of timber fires are gobbling up the Lolo National Forest. The Rice Ridge fire, burning six miles north of Seeley Lake, has grown to 120,759 acres. The 49,123-acre Lolo Peak fire, 10 miles southwest of Lolo, has claimed 10 structures. Six structures have been lost to the 43,516-acre Sapphire Complex, which is composed of three active fires. Moderate fire behavior is reported for the Sunrise and Highway 200 Complex fires.
Fires on on the west side of Glacier National Park have prompted closures of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The 13,343-acre Sprague Creek fire, now exhibiting moderate fire behavior, has burned the historic Sperry Chalet on August 31, and the Adair Peak fire is at 1,375 acres.
Elsewhere in Montana: Seventeen miles southeast of Arlee, the Liberty fire is burning 23,611 acres. The Meyers fire, on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, is reported at 57,933 acres. In the Lewis and Clark National Forest, the Alice Creek fire is at 22,471 acres, and has claimed four structures. The East Fork fire, now reporting minimal fire behavior, which spread to 21,518 acres, has claimed five structures.
The 20,292-acre Helena fire is consuming timber and brush five miles northwest of Junction City in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. After 133 structures have been lost to the blaze, it is now exhibiting minimal fire behavior.
There’s moderate fire behavior in the Klamath National Forest, in the Salmon August Complex, which has spread across 65,193 acres; and the CA-KNF-006098 fire, also known as the Eclipse Complex, is reported to be at 96,151 acres 10 miles northwest of Happy Camp.
The Orleans Complex, with four fires burning 26,490 acres of timber and brush on the Six Rivers National Forest, is now exhibiting minimal fire behavior.
The Ponderosa fire, also with minimal fire behavior, has spread to 4,016 acres and burned 54 structures.
In Utah, the 9,159-acre Tank Hollow fire is burning on the Uinta Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
In Wyoming, the Pole Creek fire is burning 3,504 acres of timber and grass on the Bridger Teton National Forest, 28 miles southeast of Afton. Moderate fire behavior is observed.
In Nevada, the 17,300-acre Tungsten fire is burning brush and short grass 60 miles northeast of Fallon.