Northern Rockies fire season just about over

The first day of autumn brought cold and often heavy rains to much of Idaho and Montana which have been on fire since mid-July.

Many fires will smolder on. It’s amazing how once a fire gets started in “heavy fuels,” meaning very dry (inside) logs, it can continue to slowly burn despite exterior conditions adverse to fire.

I took this photo of a very old smoldering log at the Bridge Fire (near Elk Summit in the Bitterroot Mountains) this September. It was early in the morning, the forest floor was damp from dew and the temperature was about about 1 degree C. above freezing (34 F.). Many logs lying in still green grass had been completely consumed without burning the grass upon which they laid. Photo by Ralph Maughan.

If the temperature gets up into the 70s F., and a strong wind blows for a few hours, some of these fires could return to torching trees and even making runs, but days are short now.

I recall the great Yellowstone fires of 1988 burned until at least the end of October. I visited them, but the season ending event was a snowstorm Sept. 11.

Another photo of the smoldering Bridge Fire early on a cold morning. Photo Ralph Maughan







  1. Phil Ralston Avatar
    Phil Ralston

    Ralph, I volunteer at Elk Summit regularly…and will do so again last half of this month…I have heard wolves, seen sign, and have unconfirmed siting…what are your thoughts about wolves in the Elk Summit area? Thanks, Phil Ralston, Portland, OR

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    It’s highly likely there are wolves in the area. For years one or more packs have lived just south and/or just north of Lolo Pass. From there Elk Summit is an easy wilderness jaunt for them.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan