PHILIPSBURG – We’ve spent lots of news time the past two summers showing you the work of fire crews battling forest fires but as it turns out, that is only the first part of the rehab work that needs to be done after a fire.
The Meyers fire scorched thousands of acres of Southwest Montana two years ago including areas in the Pintler Scenic Wilderness Area.
There are some challenges to doing the work in a wilderness area including that crews have to hike in and chainsaws can’t be used to get any of the work done on the trails.
“The challenges with that is that it’s going to take more time. But the benefits are that one, we’re keeping with the character of the wilderness and then also these folks that are getting to be out here are learning those skills,” said Sara Rouse with the Beaverhead Deer Lodge National Forest.
The Meyers fire started in July of 2017 and burned more than 62,000 acres — including in the Pintler Scenic Wilderness Area.
Along the way, the blaze toppled trees on to trails and also destroyed dozens of puncheons and bridges. Rehabilitating the trails is slow, tedious work.
“Yea, you know it’s cumulative I guess. if you mess one up then the rest get off kilter so yea just kind of take it slow and do it a piece at a time and do it right,” said crew member Eric Homan.
Since the work is being done in a wilderness area hand tools are being used and all of the supplies are brought in on pack mules.
“So everything needs to be brought in by stock. and so they can only carry you know a few planks at a time, depending on how many mules they have running,” Rouse explained.
“But then that person needs to come in and out of the wilderness, so that takes a couple of days. So usually the crew staying in and they have other folks packing in their materials for them.” Rouse added.
While the fire is long out the rehab work continues — and will for a long time. But in the end, it’s rewarding for those tough enough to do it.
“You can see there’s six-to-eight people out at a time, working long hours, camping out here, and it will still take a couple years to get done,” Rouse said.
“Hopefully I can come back and walk along this structure one day when this forest has come back,” Homan concluded.
Because mules have to be used to deliver materials the bridges have to be repaired in order from the trailhead meaning that the crews move deeper into the wilderness with each one they finish — and the supplies have to travel farther each time.
Crews actually began working on the trail while the fire was still burning in another area.
Reporting by Chet Layman for MTN News