A threatening fire season

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The smoke persists. Glacier Park is on fire, along with many other places in Montana. Until this week the entire North Fork was spared except for a minimal risk from the Gibralter Fire across the Whitefish Divide miles west of us. Gibralter still burns but is even less of a threat than it was last week. Unfortunately recent lightning brought two new fires to the Upper North Fork.

Both of these fires started in British Columbia east of the North Fork River. Normally, fires east of the river pose very little risk to the valley floor. All of our big fires have started west of the North Fork Valley and raced east into Glacier Park and were extinguished by the rocky peaks as by firefighters’ efforts.

This time is different. A red flag warning for today (Saturday) and tomorrow calls for strong winds blowing out of the east, which could send flames across the river, which would threaten Moose City and private property within two miles of the International Border.

The worst of these fires, dubbed the Elder Creek Fire by Canadian authorities, has spread into Glacier Park on its southern border and would be the most likely to be pushed west toward the North Fork River.

All local residents have been alerted and will be very watchful along with Border Patrol and Forest Service folks. I don’t know if there are plans to curtail recreational uses or not. It would seem prudent to eliminate tourists from the area if there is a real threat. That would include all forest uses—hikers, campers, floaters, birdwatchers and bow hunters. I can’t imagine an efficient evacuation if unknown numbers of people are out in the woods in unknown places.

Earlier in the week we had a nice turnout for the history tour of Kintla Ranch complete with photos and other information about Matt and Mata Brill who started the Guest Ranch in the mid 1920s after Matt homesteaded in 1912. Over time the ranch grew from the original 160-acre homestead to over 800 acres with over three and a half miles of riverfront.

Matt and Mata catered to fishermen — mostly ordinary folks from Montana and Idaho. His customers came every year, same month, and stayed in the same cabin enjoying the fishing and Matt and Mata’s superb cooking and gracious hospitality.

Kintla Ranch was owned and operated by Matt and Mata until 1947, when they sold to George Munro and Ross Wilson, although they saved 160 acres on the west boundary of the Ranch and continued to spend most of the summer on the North Fork, visiting and fishing with old friends.

The last year that Kintla Guest Ranch operated was 1954, and that winter it was purchased by the Widener Corporation from Kentucky. Since then there were two additional private owners until Kintla Ranch was sold to the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Wild and Scenic River program.

Since Kintla Ranch Road crosses several parcels of private land, there is no public access. However, if others are interested and were unable to attend the history tour, write me at Box 3, Columbia Falls. I will arrange for you to visit the site before it melts back into the forest.

Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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