Blazing Heritage: A History of Wildland Fire in the National Parks

Blazing Heritage: A History of Wildland Fire in the National Parks

Blazing Heritage: A History of Wildland Fire in the National Parks

Blazing Heritage: A History of Wildland Fire in the National Parks

Synopsis

National parks played a unique role in the development of wildfire management on American public lands. With a different mission and powerful meaning to the public, the national parks were a psychic battleground for the contests between fire suppression and its use as a management tool. Blazing Heritage tells how the national parks shaped federal fire management.

Excerpt

On July 31, 1926, with a high wind blowing, the gasoline tank on a privately owned logging truck in Glacier National Park exploded, igniting a fire that quickly spread. It crossed Fish Creek and reached Lake McDonald, one of the primary features of the park. Horace M. Albright, associate director of the National Park Service, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, and the driving force for the fledgling agency, feared that the fire would ruin that scenic section of Glacier, although the terrain it contained was “the most difficult [he] had ever seen” for fighting fire.

This particular fire devastated the land it burned. It was “intensely hot,” Albright noted. The understory, the combustible material that builds up on the ground in the absence of sporadic fire, was particularly thick, mute testimony to the success of localized fire suppression. “The timber is thick and heavy, and the ground is covered with brush, down timber, and deep humus of pine needles and rotten leaves,” Albright observed.

Albright recognized the danger of the Lake McDonald fire and mustered all the resources that he could find. He drafted one hundred men from construction crews, moving them to the west side of Lake McDonald on August 5. In the next twenty-four hours, they trenched the fire to the summit of Howe Ridge, blunting its advance. At the same time, high winds— the most powerful that many long-time Montanans recalled ever experiencing—drove another fire, called the West Huckleberry fire, down the north slope of Apgar Mountain until it merged with another branch of the Lake McDonald fire. The meeting of the two fires, Albright told NPS director Stephen T. Mather, “compelled considerable readjustment of our fire fighting organization.” Digging trenches in front of these fires required the redeployment of a number of the men and took almost four days to accomplish. By August 14, Albright reported with relief that he had the majority of the . . .

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