Montana’s exasperating fire season

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The fires of 2017 are consuming more than our desperately dry forests and grasslands. They’re eating away at all of us, physically for our brave firefighters and emotionally for the rest of us.

Even those who had never hiked to Sperry Chalet in Glacier Park felt the loss of that grand historic structure. It was a blow to all of us. The loss of so many buildings, like the dozens of structures at the Amish community destroyed in the Caribou Fire, weigh on us.

Other neighborhoods are threatened as well. Pre-evacuation orders have gone out in several areas; hundreds of people have been evacuated in various Western Montana locales. The smoke is choking and we’re likely not through the thick of it.

But we will persevere; that is the Montana spirit.

Tempers flared in the wake of the Sperry Chalet loss. There have been questions and accusations. Could more have been done early on to save the 1913 backcountry chalet?

Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow has defended the park’s initial response to the Sprague Fire that consumed the chalet. He said all the lightning-caused fires from the storm that started the Aug. 10 blaze were treated as full suppression fires.

U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has requested a full outside investigation of the fire. We’re glad to hear that an outside team will study what happened. There perhaps will be lessons learned for how future fires are managed.

Of course the big picture of forest management in the West will be at the forefront again once all the smoke clears.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines last week took to the Senate floor to raise awareness of the fires burning in the Big Sky State. He did some finger-pointing, blaming “radical environmentalists” as obstructionists who have prevented the proper management of federal forests.

There will be plenty of time for forest-management politics later, but we agree with his key assertion: “Either we manage the forests, or the forests are going to manage us.”

Hang in there, Flathead folks, and keep praying for rain. There will be better days ahead.

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