In Idaho, Tracing What Remains After the Flames

Dick Boyd sent me this article featuring the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The Stanley area is one of my favorite spots, with hot springs, jagged peaks, pristine lakes, spacious meadows and abundant wildlife.


As we neared Stanley, Idaho, a hamlet carved by creeks and framed by mountains with spiky peaks that reminded me of a punk rocker’s hair, the landscape surrounding the winding highway on which we’d climbed 7,000 feet gave way from rugged canyon to flat expanse of grass speckled by lodgepole pine and aspen. We were on the northern edges of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, three hours from Boise, when scars from an old fire came into view.

My daughter, Flora, and I had been playing a makeshift game in which we pointed out the nature surrounding us, the sort of mindless thing you do to entertain a 5-year-old on a road trip. I see a deer, I see a birdie, I see snow, I see a purple flower, we called out.

“I see trees,” I said, pointing to a cluster of an unrecognizable species to our left, their crooked branches denuded by flames that had torched them.

“Those are not trees,” Flora retorted. “Trees have leaves!”

This article reminded me of the time I spent working on the Boise National Forest, after the massive 1994 Rabbit Creek Fire took 2 months to burn before the Sawtooths and fall rains finally extinguished it. The public rarely sees any of the 150,000 burned acres, as it isn’t visible from the highways. I stumbled upon this vintage video that shows how devastating such fires can be, as storms deposit moderate rains upon highly hydrophobic soils.

It is not always easy to display the damages that occur when soils cannot absorb even moderate rainfall. As the storms and high winds came in, that day, Forest Service employees were called in, due to the danger. Oddly enough, they forgot about me. I weathered the storm, not knowing what was happening. The next day, I patrolled the roads, finding a plugged culvert, with excessive soil movement. I pulled out my trusty shovel and diverted all the water into the roadside ditch, getting it to flow down and through the next downhill culvert.

3 thoughts on “In Idaho, Tracing What Remains After the Flames”

  1. I have that vintage video on a cassette — the kind that people used to pop into a VCR. How quaint! But it’s still a powerful video. Worth watching. Did it reach very many members of the public? Have any impact?

    • Pre-YouTube videos rarely got good distribution, especially when done by the Feds. However, the Forest seemed to feel that they had to defend their work in the face of a massive slide happening during salvage logging. They took the Judge on a helicopter ride, showing that the slide started where no logging had occurred. Salvage logging was not delayed….. by the courts. That main road remained washed out for weeks, and log trucks had a long and treacherous detour to continue working.


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