Prescribed Burn to Churn Up Smoke at Whitefish Mountain Resort

Flathead National Forest officials warn residents that smoke plumes from the Oct. 10 watershed fuel reduction project will be ‘highly visible’ from across the valley

By Tristan Scott
Smoke is visible from downtown Whitefish during the 2021 phase of the Whitefish Municipal Watershed Fuel Reduction Project. Courtesy Flathead National Forest

Officials with the Flathead National Forest are warning residents that a prescribed burn scheduled to occur Oct. 10 on forested parcels directly adjacent to Whitefish Mountain Resort will create smoke plumes that “will be highly visible from around the Flathead Valley.”

According to a Friday news release from the Tally Lake Ranger District, “the actual implementation of this burn will be dependent on many factors including current and expected weather, fuel moisture, and smoke dispersion.”

Units to the east of Whitefish Mountain Resort were approved in the Whitefish Municipal Watershed Fuel Reduction Project in 2017.

Map courtesy of Flathead National Forest.

“The purpose of these burns is to protect the municipal watershed by introducing prescribed fire that would reduce the chance for high intensity wildfire in the future,” according to the news release. “In addition to these protections, this burn would increase resilience to insect and disease, improve wildlife species habitat, and aid in the restoration of whitebark pine.”

This controlled burn will utilize a helicopter equipped with a helitorch, a device that drops fire into the area to be burned, to accomplish ignition. Firefighters will be on scene and in surrounding areas to aid in implementation. 

A temporary closure order will be in effect surrounding the burn but will not restrict hikers from using the Danny On Memorial Trail or bikers from accessing the downhill bike park. However, all trails on Big Mountain will be closed for the day on Saturday, Oct. 8, as Whitefish Mountain Resort contracts with a Black Hawk helicopter to carry the new lift towers and crossarms into place as the ski area completes installation of the new Chair 4, which is scheduled to open for the 2022-23 winter season.

Dubbed the Snow Ghost Express, the new six-pack lift will shuttle skiers from the Base Lodge area to the top of Inspiration Ridge, improving access to the East Rim while providing an alternative route to the upper elevations of Big Mountain and alleviating skier traffic on Chair 1.

Through implementation of the latest phase of the Whitefish Municipal Watershed Fuel Reduction Project, fire managers are hoping to accomplish approximately 285 acres of burning approved in the Whitefish Municipal Watershed Fuels Reduction Project. A total of 850 acres were approved in this project with roughly 187 being successfully completed last year. 

Members of the public can monitor the Flathead National Forest’s social media sites for updated information at https://www.facebook.com/discovertheflathead and at https://twitter.com/FlatheadNF. General Forest information can be found online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/flathead.

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