HELENA — The Haystack Fire near Boulder has burned more than 15,000 acres and has come within nearly a mile of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. The fire is burning in an area with significant mountain pine beetle mortality in lodgepole pine trees.
This area is one of the worst in the state and the beetle epidemic had created significant dead and downed pockets of trees, providing ample fuel for a fire to ignite.
The Haystack Fire is not the only fire in this area this year, or over the past decade. The Haystack Fire has burned around the Gatlin Gulch burn area from a fire earlier this summer.
Last summer, the State Creek Fire burned several thousand acres just to the south of the Haystack Fire.
In 2016, the Nez Perce Fire burned to the west of Haystack Mountain and somehow did not erupt into an out-of-control blaze. In 2011, the Whitetail Peak Fire burned in a similar area with a similar fate, not reaching its full potential.
These areas of beetle-kill trees will continue to contribute to high fire potential, and also make fire fighting efforts that much more difficult with more fuels and more snags. If efforts are not made to mitigate the forest in the future, the area will continue to be under threat from similar fires.
A silver lining to the Haystack Fire is there is now a large area southwest of Boulder that will have been cleaned out, allowing regrowth and hopefully healthier forestation. This large burned area may now act as a fire block and may protect the Boulder area from future fires.