Wildland Fire: Collaboration Key During Grant Kohrs July 4 Fire

Burned area with trees and buildings in distance.
Burned areas from fires started on July 4 from a passing train. Grant-Kohrs Ranch and the town of Deer Lodge, Montana, are in the background.

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to responding to a wildfire in a park that is more than a 3½ hour drive from the duty station of the fire staff.

Map of fire starts and areas burned in the park GRKO
A map of areas burned by a passing train.

The Glacier National Park fire management staff provides fire support to Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (GRKO) in Deer Lodge, Montana, 218 miles south. GRKO has initial attack agreements with the nearby Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF). Typically, the Deer Lodge Volunteer Fire Department and Montana DNRC are the first responders to GRKO’s grass and brush fires until replaced by BDNF fire crews.

During dry conditions, trains sometimes ignite fires, potentially posing a threat to both historic structures on the ranch and to the town of Deer Lodge. On July 1, 2012, embers from a passing train’s smokestack started two small fires, one on the north end of GRKO and the other right outside the park’s boundary. Brad Harris, Glacier’s fire management specialist-fuels, was returning from the High Park fire in Colorado on July 1, and Fire Management Officer Dave Soleim asked Harris to stop by GRKO on his way home to make sure the fire’s documentation was complete. While Harris was there, Soleim suggested he stay on for a few days inventorying the cache, working on the pump and pump trailer, and conducting structure assessments.

 Burned area from a fire started by a train
Burned areas from fires started on July 4 by a passing train.

Harris was in the cache, working on the inventory, on July 4 when a GRKO employee called to tell him a train had started some fires in the park again. Harris responded as incident commander for six fires in the park, all started by a passing train. He had engines respond from Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, and the Deer Lodge Volunteer Fire Department. By the end of the day, firefighters had the fires controlled.

“It can be challenging to support a park that is that far away during a fire response,” Soleim said. “This just happened to work out perfectly, with Brad coming home from an assignment with a few days left on his 14-day tour. Not only was he able to complete some important work in the cache and conduct structure assessments, but he was also able to fulfill a key leadership role and provide general fire guidance to the park during a busy fire day.”

Contact: Dave Soleim, Glacier National Park fire management officer
Email: e-mail us
Phone: (406) 888-5803

Last updated: January 27, 2017