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Granite Pass Complex

Unit Information

Lolo National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
24 Fort Missoula Road
Missoula, MT 59804

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Granite Pass closures have been lifted. Stay safe in burned areas!

Granite Pass Complex Wildfire
Closures – 9/7/2021

Road, trail and area closures have been lifted for the Granite Pass Complex on the Lolo and Nez Perce Clearwater National Forests (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7653/). There may be areas in the interior of the burned area that are still smoking and smoldering. Please exercise caution.

As areas re-open, here are some general tips on staying safe in burned areas:

  • Those traveling on Forest roads through burned areas should carry a small saw or axe to remove downed trees that may have fallen across the roads
  • Snags – or dead, standing trees – are prone to fall without warning in burned areas. In windy conditions the danger of falling snags is heightened and visitors should always be alert to the condition of trees and the weather
  • The base of a tree may be consumed in a wildfire and the stump completely burned out, leaving a deep pocket or hole not visible when walking through the area. Caution should be used when walking near the burned out base of a tree.

Traveling and recreating safely in a burned landscape (from Payette National Forest Fire & Aviation)

A burned landscape presents a number of safety hazards that either did not exist prior to the fire or have been exacerbated by the effects of the fire. In some cases these hazardous conditions may persist for several years after a fire. Be very aware of your surroundings, follow warning signs and directions from agency personnel, and pay particular attention to these potential safety hazards:

Unstable Terrain. Typically the roots of plants hold soil in place. Many shrubs will re-sprout after fire and many conifer trees will regenerate in mass after fire. However, where plants were burned and will not recover, their roots are also dead and will decompose over the coming months and even years. As these old roots decompose, they will cease to bind the soil which will allow the soil and rock to shift and move under foot. In some cases existing the trail prism and trail markers may also be obliterated making route finding challenging.

Displaced Wildlife. Fire dramatically alters wildlife habitat. Animals that are resident in the area will be displaced by the fire and may appear disconcerted or act oddly shortly after the fire as they try to re-orient themselves to their habitat. For communal animals, the effects may be also include the loss of kin or parts of their herd/flock/etc and these animals may alter their social behavior accordingly. Many animals are migratory and were out of the area at the time of the fire. These animals may experience a delayed response to the changes in their habitat when they return or they may simply choose not to return to that particular site. As many plants will respond favorably to fire, there may be a fresh flush of desired forage plants that will concentrate animals in new places. If you have questions about hunting seasons or zones affected by fire, please contact your local Idaho Fish and Game Office.

Hazard Trees. Hazard trees will exist throughout the burned area. It is often hard to assess the long-term survival of scorched trees, some of which may subsequently die while others may recover. Assume that a dead tree may fall and impact an area up to 2x its height. Allow yourself some extra room and consider the potential fall zone when choosing a travel route and especially where you chose to rest or camp. Be especially wary of hazard trees after rain events or during high winds.

Burned stump holes and root chambers. Burned stumps may create rather obvious large holes, but these holes may actually be bigger than you think! In many cases, the fire may have traveled through the root chambers and consumed the woody root material leaving vacant chambers where solid wood used to be. Over time, these root chambers will collapse. Your body or vehicle weight on the root chambers may cause them to collapse and open up holes under your feet. Large trees have particularly large root chambers that can also be very deep. Be especially wary after rain as the moisture may travel through the root chambers and make collapse easier.

Flash flooding and debris flows. Burned landscapes have fewer plants to intercept rain thus more reaches the ground with high impact. In addition there are fewer plants actively growing so evapotranspiration rates are also much lower, which means the soils become saturated much more quickly than they did before a fire. This creates a risk of flash floods and debris flows. Both create deep rumbling noises and ground vibration. Be very aware of the weather. Avoid travel in channels when rain is likely. If you get caught unaware, climb to high ground. Don’t enter flood waters as you may not have a solid substrate underneath and the flow may be stronger than you estimate. Look, listen, and react quickly!

Management Activities. The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) effort often starts shortly after the fire. The US Forest Service specialist assess the burned area for watershed impacts, hazard trees, and other concerns. Treatments to minimize or mitigate those impacts are then prescribed and implemented. In some cases, salvage logging may also be authorized. During implementation there may be heavy equipment and aircraft working in and around the burned area.