The month of January and the phrase “fire season” aren’t frequently heard in the same sentence, but a grass fire that’s burned some 45,000 acres on the Blackfeet Reservation points to what an anomalous winter this has been so far. High winds, warm temperatures and little precipitation are typically the recipe for wild fires in July and August, but this year, with winter off to such a modest start across the state, conditions are ripe for burning six months early. Meanwhile, closer to home, a slash pile on Mount Helena was set ablaze earlier this week, but officials said that fire was more of a concern from an air quality standpoint than the potential for burning out of control. Even in a dry winter, there was enough snow on the mountain to keep the fire contained.
There may not be enough snow to suit many winter enthusiasts, but there’s enough in certain parts of the region that we’re seeing the season’s first tragic reports of untimely backcountry deaths caused by avalanches. One of two Butte snowmobilers who died near Philipsburg last weekend was believed to be the victim of an avalanche he triggered, while near Cooke City, a snowmobiler was dug up within 12 minutes of being buried by an avalanche, but it wasn’t fast enough to save his life. A couple hours later, a cross-country skier from Bozeman was caught in a separate avalanche and also perished. One bright spot from these tragic stories: the skier’s dog, thought to have been lost in the slide as well, made his way back to Cooke City several days after the accident. We remind everyone who enjoys recreating in the backcountry to take all the necessary precautions to help ensure that this winter won’t be their last.
The city of Helena continues to take incremental steps toward a more inclusive recycling program. Starting on Wednesday, Jan. 18, and on the third Wednesday of each month going forward, the transfer station will accept electronic waste — televisions, computers, monitors and the like. With personal electronics becoming ever-more affordable and ubiquitous, disposal becomes a larger problem, and it’s good to see the city moving toward finding a way to take these items, some of which have components that need special dismantling and disposal. There’s a per-item fee to be paid for now, which is hardly an incentive to recycle, but at least now residents have a regular and available option for disposing of electronic waste.