By Jim Stanford on August 8, 2013
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.)
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.