Fire in the Flathead

Fire in the Flathead

FLBS Joins Effort to Support Fire Crews and Evacuees as Fires Impact Flathead Lake Communities for Second Straight Year

For the second year in a row, the start of August coincided not only with the start of our Forest & Fire Ecology summer course, but also with the ignition and spread of a large and destructive wildfire on the shores of Flathead Lake.

Last year, it was the Boulder 2700 Fire that forced evacuations of the Bio Station and local residences along the lake’s eastern shoreline, destroying nearly 40 homes and structures along the way. This year, the Elmo 2 Fire has ravaged the western shoreline, forcing evacuations of residents in the Elmo, Dayton, and Lake Mary Ronan communities and destroying over 10 homes and structures thus far.

Though the Bio Station wasn’t directly impacted by the fires this year, FLBS personnel still provided assistance and support to the fire crews and communities that were on the front lines of the Elmo 2 Fire. Whether engaging the fires directly as volunteer firefighters, coordinating with local chambers of commerce to help feed displaced families, or supporting fire crews by organizing and providing donation deliveries from the communities of Kalispell, Bigfork and others to local volunteer firefighters, FLBS was more than willing to lend a helping hand.

In the Flathead Watershed, communities are all deeply connected by our pristine waters. A tangible example of this arrived on our Bio Station shoreline only a few days after the start of the Elmo 2 Fire. A swirling assortment of charcoal pieces, which likely first landed in Flathead Lake near Rollins, were carried by the lake’s natural counterclockwise currents south to the Narrows and then up the eastern shoreline, where a portion was ultimately deposited on the shores of Yellow Bay.


Charcoal from the Elmo 2 Fire, which burned on the western shoreline on the opposite side of Flathead Lake, arrives on the Bio Station's shoreline in Yellow Bay. 


Now more than ever, it’s more important that we fully understand the impacts of these wildfires on our local ecosystems, and the ability of our forests and freshwater ecosystems to respond and regenerate in their wake. Forest & Fire Ecology courses continue to study and learn on the front lines of these Flathead Watershed fires, and while FLBS researchers don’t believe the charcoal and ash fallout from these fires will have any long term impacts for Flathead Lake itself, FLBS graduate student Brooke Bannerman is hard at work monitoring and assessing the impacts of increased fire activity to the water quality of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

From wildfires to invasive mussels, each new threat to our Flathead Watershed is a potent reminder that it will continue to take plenty of hard and collaborative work to sustain and support the residents, communities, and ecosystems of our Flathead Watershed today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.