The Lake Christine wildfire started on July 3, 2018 and burned over 12,500 acres, much of which was contained on mostly uninhabited Basalt Mountain.
Three homes were destroyed, and 500 homes were under mandatory evacuation several times when the fire rekindled. The fire burned within sight of our home looking west towards the locus of the fire near the towns of Basalt and Carbondale, Colorado.
The cause was stupidity on the part of an early-twenties couple illegally shooting tracers1 at the Basalt shooting range during a period of dry weather and fire restrictions. Massive firefighting finally brought the fire under control by September 4th after two months of intense burning and smoke.
One Year Later
Nearly a year later, after reading in the local papers that a few trails through the fire-burnt Basalt Mountain wooded wilderness were cleared of fallen trees, I decided to hike through the burn figuring it would be something different. It was indeed.
Ditch Trail, Basalt Mountain
I picked a trail called the Ditch Trail that starts at a parking area a few miles up the Basalt Mountain Road above El Jebel, Colorado. I didn’t take a dog because I didn’t know how much soot and burnt wood chunks would be on the ground. My friend Don Lucoff, former Executive Artistic Director of Portland Jazz, joined me for the hike on a sunny Colorado day.
The start of the hike is a mild uphill walk along a good path through Aspen trees and pines. Within ten minutes the scenery began to show where the fire defense line had been. It was distressingly close to the residences in Missouri Heights. A friend who lives there told me that just before evacuating, the roar of the fire had been deafening.
Our path paralleled a creek to a fork where a hiker can walk up the creek to the right or follow a better-developed path to the left. To get into the burn, we were advised to take the up-stream right path that would intersect a dirt road and eventually get us back to our parked car.
The trees were black; some were still standing, some were twisted and tortured and some were on the ground. I could only imagine the intensity of the fire that produced what we were seeing. But mixed in with this grim backdrop was the uplifting side of Mother Nature. Against the stark images of blackened trees was the beginning of a fresh palette of greens from grasses and new growth. Death and renewal were presented all in one view.
I wondered how much progress the new growth would make in one more year. It was then I committed to take the same hike again in June 2020 to photograph the two-year mark vs the one-year mark we were at on this hike.
I do look for any reason to take a hike!
Aspen Trees are a Fire Buffer
As we hiked, I recalled something a fire-remediation expert had told me the year before. I had called him to give us a review of our house’s vulnerability to a possible forest fire. He liked the mix of Aspen trees that we have in abundance. I learned from him that Aspen trees don’t burn with a flaming fire, they smolder. So burning Aspen trees don’t contribute to the spread of a fire the way burning scrub oak and even evergreens do.
You can see evidence of this in the photo above. Pine tree trunks are burned black, whereas even the damaged Aspens still look like Aspen trees.
The path reached a local top, levelled and intersected the dirt road well up-road from our car. We walked down the road and reached our car after a nice, very interesting 1 ½ hour hike. The sun was out, the sky was “Colorado blue” and as we drove out, thoughts of writing this post swirled in my head.
The Lake Christine Fire was a two-month travesty caused by irresponsible humans, but Mother Nature had taken over and was already healing, renewing and making up for our human faults.