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Suppressing fire at the wilderness boundary: The Bear Creek fires of 2015, Spotted Bear Ranger District

Author(s): Vita Wright
Year Published: 2016

A s a warm up for the 2016 Learning from a Legacy of Wilderness Fire Workshop, Spotted Bear Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest and the Northern Rockies Fire Science Network (NRFSN) hosted a field trip just outside the wilderness boundary. Forty-four managers, scientists, and students learned about fire management on this wilderness district. 

In 2015, the most expensive fire season in the Northern Rockies since 2006, Spotted Bear Ranger District recorded 42 fire starts. The Bear and Trail Creek fires together burned 86,155 acres (Bear Creek fire alone burned 65,438 acres) and cost $1,874,895, a relatively low cost for managing fire on 86,155 acres. On August 20th, the Bear Creek fire ran more than 9 miles and burned more than 16,000 acres in approximately 5 hours. Despite 3 vehicles and some camper and hay trailers burnt, the district was able to evacuate >70 head of stock. No firefighters, public, or stock were injured.

This field trip summary highlights the following topics:

  • Management decisions: to suppress or not suppress
  • Importance of fire experience among local managers
  • Public access
  • Fuel treatment
  • Fire spread predictive modeling
  • Post-fire concerns in wilderness
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Fire Prediction, Fire & Wilderness, Post-fire Management
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Research Brief or Fact Sheet
Hot Topic(s): Wilderness Fire
NRFSN number: 19688
Record updated: Sep 30, 2021