Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail