Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Bozeman's Bridger Foothills Fire Started By Lightning Holdover

Custer Gallatin National Forest
The Bridger Foothills Fire forced evacuations and burned homes north of Bozeman in early September 2020.

Officials say the Bridger Foothills Fire near Bozeman was likely caused by a hold-over lightning strike.

The U.S. Forest Service, with support from the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, on Friday announced it had completed its initial investigation into the cause of the more than 8,000 acre Bridger Foothills Fire.

“The initial finding is that it was lightning caused, and it was from a thunderstorm that occurred in this area at the end of August," says Marna Daley, public affairs officer for the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

The fire was first reported on Sept. 4.

Daley says sometimes lightning strikes a tree, causing it to immediately flare up, but other she says, "You won’t have that flaring. It will just smolder within the tree or within the duff or any debris that might be on the forest floor, and it will just smolder there.”

That is, until conditions are just right.

“We just happened to have those conditions on September 4, where it was warm and dry and sunny," Daley says.

Daley says the investigators came to their initial finding by analyzing weather data, looking for signs in the area where the fire was believed to have started, and interviewing people who had been nearby.

They’ll continue following up on any additional leads they receive before releasing a final cause.

Daley says crews are making progress on the fire, which was close to 80 percent contained as of Monday morning.

She added the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Gallatin County and National Weather Service launched an interagency post-fire recovery effort to figure out where and how to stabilize soils, prevent weed infestations, plant trees and help landowners whose property has been affected.