Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Fire crews conduct prescribed burn.

Fire crews conduct prescribed burn at Grant Kohrs National Historic Site.

Interagency Collaboration Helps Fuels Programs Thrive

Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site & Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana
Cohesive Strategy—Maintain & Restore Landscapes*

For small rural parks like Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site and Big Hole National Battlefield, fire management is often just one of the many programs the limited staff manages. The bulk of the fire management planning and implementation comes from Glacier National Park. While having the Glacier staff handle the paperwork aspects of their fire programs is helpful, it's also difficult as Glacier is five hours from Big Hole (BIHO) and 3 ½ hours from Grant-Kohrs Ranch (GRKO).

Collaboration with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has helped fill in some of the gaps for staff at the two parks. For years, the Pintler Ranger District has assisted Grant-Kohrs Ranch and the Wisdom District has assisted Big Hole.

“We have agreements ?? formal and informal ?? in place for prescribed burning and initial attack assistance,” said Fire Management Officer Dave Soleim, who is based at Glacier but supports the two parks. “I say informally because in multiple cases the district fire management officer just takes care of things, like pile burning, for us.”

Aerial photo of fire burning.

Fire crews from the Pintler Ranger District of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest support fire managers from Glacier National Park in conducting annual ditch burning at Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.

While the partnership with the forest for fire response is essential, the agreements to help with prescribed fire are also a huge benefit, especially in terms of cost effectiveness and efficiencies.

“It’s a huge advantage and cost savings to the government because the forest district fire management staffs are right there monitoring conditions, meaning they can better pick an appropriate burn window,” Soleim added. “The result is there’s a much lower chance of mobilizing resources when the window to burn isn’t there.”

Glacier Fuels Specialist Brad Harris does the majority of planning for prescribed fires and projects, with the help of the forest district fire mangement officer and assistant fire management officer. Harris secures the funding and permits, represents the park and is usually onsite for the burning, but the success of the projects relies on the partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

In 2011 the Pintler Ranger District AFMO helped conduct a 228-acre broadcast burn at Grant-Kohrs Ranch. The burns here are unique, primarily due to the uniqueness of the park itself. The park is a working cattle ranch, located on the outskirts of Deerlodge, Montana. The primary objectives prescribed fires are to restore the fields and remove excess growth from the irrigation ditches for unencumbered water flow for ranch operations. But, given the park’s location, the burns also have wildland-urban interface component because removing the overgrowth of vegetation and thatch also serves to lower the risk of a wildland fire on the park threatening Deerlodge.

At Big Hole National Battlefield, Wisdom District fire staff has been instrumental in accomplishing pile burning. The park is dealing with a pine beetle outbreak that has killed trees and created hazardous fuels that have to be removed, piled and burned. The treatments are in developed areas, so these are considered wildland-urban interface burns.

The Glacier fire management staff is planning landscape restoration prescribed fires for a larger area at Big Hole to mimic burns the Nez Perce frequently conducted to maintain horse pastures and for hunting. In 1981 Steve Barrett concluded that “Indians apparently set fall and spring underburns primarily for hunting purposes, food-plant stimulation, and, after 1730, to increase growth for forage for horses.”  He found that in heavily grazed areas, the mean fire interval was 7.5 years. Glacier fire management is collaborating on these plans with resource staff at Nez Perce National Historic Site, the Upper Columbia Basin Network Inventory and Monitoring Program and Wisdom District Fire Management staff.

One of the main objectives of the upcoming burn is fire ecology and restoration, primarily to propagate the state-listed, rare endemic Lehmi penstemon (Penstemon lemhiensis) plant species. Heidel and Shelly (2001) demonstrated that the species responded favorably to prescribed fire, presumably because litter and competing vegetation were removed.

“Our partnership with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge is key in the accomplishment of our fuels projects,” Soleim said. “Both superintendents are very happy and comfortable with the relationship we have with the forest.”

Contact: Brad Harris

Email: r_brad_harris@nps.gov

Phone: (406) 888-7811

*This story supports Department of the Interior initiatives.