In 2002, the Hinman Fire burned 31,016 acres in the Routt National Forest. It was part of what became the Mount Zirkel Complex of fires. Much of the burned area included trees blown down by a rare high-altitude wind storm with hurricane force gales. On October 24, 1997, it laid flat 20,000 acres and an estimated 6 million trees. leaving a pick-up-sticks matrix on the ground. The dead trees left perfect habitat for pine beetles, which have scourged the area and left millions and millions of acres of dead trees. Many of those beetle-killed dead trunks still stand, with thousands falling every day throughout the forests of the mountain West.
The Hinman Fire burned hot and hard, and left scorched tree trunks standing tall and dead. The trees were diseased and killed by the beetles, providing the “perfect storm” for the fire. It was particularly impactful to us, since we had 800 ewes and their lambs on the Farwell grazing allotment. In a effort that is still legend, our sheepherder Pepe Cruz brought the sheep down the Elk River drainage, trailing the sheep throughout the night, with a sack of new puppies tied to his saddlehorn. He brought all of the animals under his care out safely, with fire burning on three sides.
We still graze on that allotment. The regeneration of the landscape there gives me hope for the rest of the Forest, which has been devastated by beetles. In the burned over area, still marked by the standing spears of trees burned 16 years ago, the vegetation is rebounding and new growth trees are filling in the landscape. The burned area looks verdant and healthy compared to the rest of the Forest. It gives me hope to see the new forest rising from the ashes.