after the burn

A cyclist descends the West Game Creek trail through an area of forest scorched by the Little Horsethief Fire. Photo by Brenton Reagan

Eleven months after the Little Horsethief Fire burned the back of Snow King, nature is rejuvenating itself.

Twice this summer I’ve been fortunate to ride with friends the newly improved West Game Creek trail that descends from the top of the mountain.

The first trip, back in early July, revealed a moonscape of burned-out trees and soot on the ground. Thanks to the efforts of the Forest Service and volunteers, the trail was in surprisingly good shape. Lupine and other wildflowers were blooming in places.

I returned last weekend to find fields of fireweed in the burned areas. Beyond the pink blossoms stood perfect stands of high grass. A hum was audible: bumble bees buzzing through the forest.

Lovers of summer tend to wince when fireweed appears. One of the last wildflowers to bloom, it is synonymous with the coming of fall. I’ve heard it said that the uppermost buds are a gauge for how many weeks of summer remain; once the top is flowering, the end of the season is nigh.

(This summer, owing likely to a hot, dry spring, fireweed began blooming early, appearing along the Snake River in the second week of July.)

The Little Horsethief Fire burned more than 3,300 acres in September 2012. Fireweed is among the first flowers to grow in the wake of a blaze.

While I am among those who grimace at first sight of fireweed, the fields of pink and violet, contrasted with the black trees, made for a soothing sight Saturday.

As for the resolution of the Little Horsethief Fire, including possible criminal charges, officials continue to divulge little information from the case.

Teton County Fire Marshal Kathy Clay and County Attorney Keith Gingery said today that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne has been waiting for the Forest Service to provide a final accounting of the costs before proceeding with the legal case against the man who started the blaze, Jim Anderson. Clay said the sum may be less than the $9 million originally estimated last year.

Dale Deiter, district ranger for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, said he hasn’t received a final figure yet.

Nick Vassallo, the federal attorney in Cheyenne overseeing the case, said he couldn’t comment over the phone because of the “ongoing possibility of litigation.” He hadn’t yet responded to a list of written questions submitted by email, as of this writing.

Hardly a week goes by without someone asking me, “Whatever happened … ?” Clay agreed that the public deserves answers. “We need a closure,” she said.

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Posted under Crime, Environment, Sports

3 Comments so far

  1. patty August 8, 2013 5:29 pm

    headed out the door..

    thanks for the photo motivation…

  2. Woolly the Mammoth August 8, 2013 6:43 pm

    We don’t need closure, we need justice. This man recklessly endangered our entire community. I have no idea why the forest service can’t provide a final accounting of the costs of the fire nearly a year later, but the reality is that this isn’t a civil case, it was a criminal act. The investigation about how the fire started has long been completed, so let’s get on with it Mr. Gingery. This isn’t just about the government being reimbursed. If someone commits a DUI they are immediately arrested. Mr. Anderson nearly burned down all of our homes and yet he hasn’t even received a citation.

  3. Brad August 9, 2013 9:11 am

    What Patty said.

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