September 1, 2013

The Summer of Fire, Ten Years After

Now that summer is on the wane, and the Numa Fire burning in Kootenay National Park is settling down, we can turn our attention to the summer of 2003, ten years ago, when it felt like much of western Canada was ablaze.

On July 31 that year, a large lightning storm in Kootenay (just south of Lake Louise) started several fires.  Two of them eventually grew into one enormous fire which burned over 17,000 hectares of the park.  It didn't rain for 42 straight days, so every morning we'd wake up to blue skies, but not to the south: behind Mount Temple, the signature peak in the village of Lake Louise, it would look like a nuclear bomb was going off, as smoke from the fires rose to 20,000 feet.

By mid-September, rains and some bold back-burning finally put out the blaze, but since then, life has returned.  We've been watching and photographing the changes in Kootenay, so here's a ten year anniversary montage in images...

August, 2003.  At the height of the 2003 Kootenay wildfires, firefighters take a break after working to save historic Kootenay Park Lodge from the flames.  Photo by park warden John Niddrie.

July 2005. Two years after the fire, the forest floor near Stanley Glacier is covered in arnica flowers.

August, 2007.  Four years after the fire, the Stanley Glacier trail erupts in fireweed.

August, 2013.  Ten years after the fire, young lodgepole pine are now taller than a person near Marble Canyon.

August, 2013.  Burnt trees and pink wildflowers stand in beautiful contrast on the trail through Prospector's Valley.