We have been closely watching the Cliff Creek Fire. It’s a fire that has grown to almost fifteen thousand aces, which is about twenty-five square miles of burned area. The fire is east of us and poses no threat but the fire area is not far from where our son and his wife live. They also have not been in danger and the smoke hasn’t been bad there but worrying goes with being parents.
So when the highway reopened we decided to drive through the burned areas. On the way we were treated to the sight of a nanny mountain goat and her kid but they disappeared into trees before we could take any images. As we approached Hoback Junction, the smoke increased and we could see it was thicker as you went traveled along the Hoback River.
Heading up the Hoback Valley we drove past a camp of firefighters. It was early and they were gathered in circles, engaged in a morning meeting/gathering. Periodically fire trucks were parked at strategic places as all eyes were concentrated on monitoring the fire and protecting any structures.
We didn’t encounter any burned areas until we were well up the canyon and then we passed through typical fire patterns. Forest fires don’t burn everything and so interspersed with burned ground, and areas where the fire crowned out were areas of green where the fire bypassed small groups of trees.
There were areas where the fire had only left pillars of tree trunks and areas where even these had burned, the hottest areas of fire. While we didn’t see any of these I did take classes on fire ecology and I had actually seen where large sheets of granite had exploded off of massive outcrops. Such an explosion is caused when the intense heat turns trapped water into steam. You literally see sheets of rock laying on top of ash.
Nearing the town of Bondurant we saw where the firemen/women had made stands and saved buildings along the river valley. Many were Federal Hotshot fire crews from all over the West. Just south of the town a heliport had been set up where helicopters were based while fighting the fire.
Driving by them we spotted a huge badger poking his nose out of the ditch but again we couldn’t get any images before he moved back into the sagebrush. His claws were huge and reminded me of ones we had seen on grizzly bears in Alaska, seriously!
We did see some of the fire itself in burning areas away from the road. You could also see a line of current fires burning towards the Gros Ventre, (pronounced grow vont), Mountains. The plan now is to let the fire burn itself out, (when the snows fall), and to contain the fire by back burning. That is a process where fires are deliberately set, when the winds are favorable, to take fuel away the active fire.
As I look at the burned areas I think of how the newly burned area will bloom with life. Such burned areas are a far cry from the sterile forest floor under a mature forest canopy. This area was well past maturity and many of the trees had died from the pine beetle infestation. The same thing happened when Yellowstone burned in the fires of 1988 and the herds of grazers increased, (elk, deer and buffalo).