Picture of forest fire

The wildfires that swept the Northwest Region of the United States this summer will leave a lasting scar across the land and communities affected for years to come. Over two million acres burned, some fires caused by man and some caused by lightning. Either way, the devastation for local families and rural communities is huge.

Farmers, ranchers, loggers, those in the tourist industries. . . all were affected by the fires and the charred remains they leave behind. The lands will be scarred and it will easily be years before the forests are healed and grown to once again cover the mountain sides. We can only hope that the forests will recover with the proper management in place. It is expected that the “cover” and homes to the wildlife will repair itself most quickly, with small brush and grasses coming back within a year or two. The trees that were damaged from the pine beetles before the fire even started could have been harvested and used but instead have gone to waste and are fueling the fires.

The aftermath of the fires will affect the region’s tourist industry with the beautiful forests no longer complete. There are thousands of acres destroyed by the yellow and orange licking flames. People have lost hundreds of homes and their personal belongings, some even their lives.

Many farmers and ranchers have lost their whole life’s work. Structures, herds of cattle and/or sheep, fences, grass for grazing and other feed. Outside just the physical devastation to the landscape, the fire’s impact is also harmful for this sector of the country’s economic growth and livelihood. The story that I am most familiar with is the farmers and ranchers affected have only known this lifestyle. Most live this lifestyle not for the money but for the country way of life. . . genuinely caring for their neighbors, family, and livestock; a way of life that was consumed and stolen by the fires as they passed through.

Some lost their entire livelihood with their herds burned or lost due to the fire. The effects of having to see the devastation will be something that they will carry with them forever. Some had to put down their own cattle and horses that had been burned by the encroaching fires; others had to bury the cattle and horses that had perished.

Wildlife numbers will also be affected in the burned areas as well. Elk, deer, bear, birds, bunnies, and I could go on, had their habitat destroyed in the fire.

Writing this story about the fires in the Northwest proved to be a challenge. Most all of my home state of Montana has either burned, was burning, or might still burn. The fires this summer were the result of a wet fall and spring followed by an extremely hot summer with high winds and storms; all great conditions for a widespread fire.

The most common comment, when you visit with those affected by the fires, was the thankfulness for neighbors and friends who came with everything they could gather: bulldozers, spray rigs, tractors with discs, shovels, knowledge of fires, as well as food and beverages. Neighbors helping neighbors. . . giving of not only “stuff” but time! People from around the country donating fencing supplies, hay, pasture, equipment, and dollars to help their fellow neighbors. The agricultural community is incredible, they truly believe in trying to pay it forward. All so appreciated! However, the fires will truly leave a scar for years not just on the land but on the lives of the ones affected.

So many lives affected and so many stories to be heard.

There were over a million acres of land burned in Montana alone, and over two million acres of land have burned across the Northwest region of the U.S. as of the time of my writing this piece. It makes one wonder, could proper forest management have prevented this catastrophic fire season and future ones?

All will be healed with time though. . . magic, right?

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