FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Fire That Saved Sun Valley

by LANCE OLSEN

In 2007, fire broke out in the forest west of Sun Valley, Idaho.  Prevailing west-to-east winds pushed it toward the long-famed resort town, precipitating vigorous firefighting efforts to protect Sun Valley, nearby Ketchum and homes of both modest and ostentatiously pretentious scale. This fire, named the Castle Rock Fire, was successfully stopped before wiping out the towns and homes.

End of story? Nope.

As The Wall Street Journal’s reporter Jim Carlton pointed out six years after the 2007 fire, (Fighting Fire With Fire to Save Idaho Resort, August 22, 2013, page A4) the Castle Rock Fire also saved Idaho towns and homes when another fire broke out in 2013.

In 2013, fire started west of the old 2007 burn. Prevailing west-to-east winds pushed this new fire too toward Sun Valley and Ketchum, or at least it pushed the new fire in that direction until the new fire – named the Beaver Creek Fire — got into the area burned in 2007, by the Castle Rock fire. Once there, the Beaver Creek fire fizzled.

“Without Castle Rock,” fire expert Wayne Patterson told the The Wall Street Journal, “we would have had a much larger [fire] front to deal with, and it probably would have made it into Ketchum.” The Journal’s reporter, Jim Carlton, further referenced Patterson for saying that the 42,000 acre fire of 2007 ended up causing little property damage, but left a buffer of land that protected property in the fire of 2013.

Once again, the resort towns and less flamboyant places were saved from fire, but this time it was an old fire saving them from the next one.

All this brings several things to mind for all of us who understand that fire is a feature of forested places. First, this story does nothing to diminish the role that firefighters played, or the risks to life and limb we force them to take when we expect them to save humble cabins or extravagant McMansions from burning.

Second, the fact that it was The Wall Street Journal explaining how Idaho property was saved by the same 2007 fire that had threatened it tells us that we can find some truths about fires in unexpected places. Too often, we take our news of fire from sources that don’t cover all the bases, so it’s always a good idea to shop around a bit before we let ourselves arrive at conclusions.

Third, and more important in my own opinion, is that this story tells us something interesting about the fires of 2013. A fire that briefly threatened the town of Lolo, Montana this year might be as good an example as any.  Like Idaho’s Castle Rock Fire of 2007, prevailing west-to-east winds pushed this fire close to entering the town. Like the Castle Rock, this fire was stopped by energetic firefighting.  Now the question is whether it has now provided an already burnt-over area that will provide a buffer against future fire risk for the Montana town.  Will some future news story report that a fire saved Lolo from fire?

More broadly, though, what we have here is good reason to see fire as an effective control on fire. Fire experts have seen this potential for quite some time, and have long been scrutinizing use of deliberately set – prescribed – fires to do the same work as Idaho’s Castle Rock Fire did for Ketchum and Sun Valley.

These proposals often meet public reaction that is, so to speak, explosive.

Locals raise grievances about smoke. Many an activist argues that the agencies don’t really know what they’re doing, and can’t be trusted to keep prescribed fires in control. And some prescribed fires have indeed spread beyond the acreage they were intended to burn. As a case in point, the Montana Supreme Court in 2013 ordered agencies to pay a rancher for damage caused when a prescribed fire spread to his land.

These, however, may be merely expressions of the normal human tendency to live in the passing moment without a thought of tomorrow. For example, from the world of wildlife we know that species ranging from ruffed grouse to elk and moose often thrive in areas where fire has done its work on the land.  These benefits aren’t immediate but, within just a few years, the likes of elk can experience something of a population boom where fire has set the stage for growth of grasses and shrubs making up some of their most important food sources.

And, after a 1988 fire swept out of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness and across his land, a Montana rancher shrugged it off, telling me he wouldn’t be able to put his cows on the burned ground anytime soon, but the grasses would bounce back by the following year. Perhaps the 2007 fire that saved Idaho resort towns in 2013 just underscores what that rancher said about the difference between today and tomorrow.

Lance Olsen, Montana native, has served as council member of the Montana Wilderness Association, advisor to the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and president of the Great Bear Foundation from 1982-1992. He currently runs a listserv restricted to climate researchers, wildlife researchers, agency staff, grad students, and NGOs operating from local to global scale. 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
Charles R. Larson
A Review of Mary Roach’s “Grunt”
David Yearsley
Stuck in Houston on the Cusp of the Apocalypse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail