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Emergency Program Helps Community Repair Impacts of Roaring Lion Fire

Posted by Lori Valadez, State Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS Montana in Conservation
Aug 02, 2021
The Roaring Lion Fire
The Roaring Lion Fire burned in Ravalli County near Hamilton, Mont., in 2016. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

The Emergency

The Roaring Lion Fire was first noticed on Sunday, July 31, 2016, near Hamilton, Montana. Hamilton is located in Ravalli County and is situated on the eastern fringe of the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness. The fire was caused by a campfire started by teenage campers. The campfire was not completely extinguished. Windy conditions likely fanned the remaining embers.

The fire moved rapidly. Within the first six hours, it became a threat to human life and property. The burn area spanned a half-dozen named drainages all contributing to the Bitterroot River.

Little or no warning was given before evacuations began. Evacuees were away from their homes for as long as two weeks.

The Impacts

Numerous structures and private property were lost. Ultimately, the fire would consume 8,658 acres of standing timber and grass understory, 16 homes, and 49 outbuildings. The costs associated with battling the blaze totaled $11 million.

Fire intensity was moderate to high in most areas. The high intensity burn made soils in these areas hydrophobic. That means the soil didn’t allow water to absorb into the ground, but rather, stored the water on its surface. Some of these areas were expected to experience hydrophobic conditions for as long as 12-18 months after the fire. These conditions can have negative impacts on the landscape’s ability to remain stable during rain events, since water rushes off the surface instead of being absorbed.

Increased runoff volumes from rain events can result in mud and debris flows. The chance of these runoff conditions happening is a safety concern for the landowners living in or nearby the burn area.

The Protection

The Montana Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) notified affected landowners about the potential risks and impacts associated with post fire landscape conditions.

NRCS and Bitterroot Conservation District, the local project sponsor, worked on four sites using the Emergency Watershed Protection program. These sites included infrastructure that became vulnerable, due to post fire hydrology.

Besides implementing repair and protective measures on two other damaged sites, NRCS also provided solutions, design drawings, specifications, and financial support for installation costs.

NRCS reimbursed the Bitterroot Conservation District for 75 percent of the estimated construction cost. The conservation district provided a 25 percent match, permits, land rights, easements, and construction contracts. All projects were located on private property. The district also drafted side agreements with the landowners to hire the contractors, provided the 25 percent financial match, covered over-run costs, and assumed operation and maintenance duties.

The Work Completed

The following are examples of the EWP work that was completed under emergency conditions.

Before and after photos of an irrigation head gate
Before: The fire destroyed an irrigation head gate, leaving the water uncontrolled. Burned trees also threatened to fall on the structure. After: A new head gate and diversion put the irrigation canal back in back in working order. Burned trees that threatened to fall on the head gate and canal were removed. Photo by Lori Valadez, State Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS Montana

Have a moment? Watch how Kathy Good works with NRCS to repair and protect her property after the Roaring Lion Fire.

Category/Topic: Conservation

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Mar 28, 2018

The teenagers were arrested, right?