Pine Crest Fire ruled human-caused and accidental
Slash piles are more than likely to blame for sparking what turned into a 3,000 acre wildfire in the Pine Crest subdivision in March.
A joint investigation by Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger, the state Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Land Management narrowed the origin of the fire to October Hill Road, Lot 12, where three slash piles had been burned in the days prior to the blaze.
Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger said that possibly an ember from one of the burns blew away from the pile or the wind reignited one of the piles.
The state Fire Marshal’s report used the term “accidental in nature” while the BLM report uses the phrase “slash burning thought to have been extinguished,” said Cowger.
There was nothing wrong about how those slash pile burns were conducted and Cowger said the property owners were actually being responsible by “cleaning up” downed timber in the area. Cowger declined to name the property owner of lot 12.
The official cause is listed as human caused but undetermined. There will be no further investigation on the criminal side.
Pine Crest Subdivision residents were notified of the report Wednesday.
Rare Winter Wildland Fire
The blaze broke out in late March in the two-section subdivision located between Columbus and Park City. Approximately 89 homes are located there and snow was still on the ground, noted Cowger.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the upper portion of the subdivision with 58 calls going out through the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office Reverse 911 call system
It was a wind-driven fire that eventually involved approximately 3,000 acres and claimed two homes and three buildings. At that time it was the largest fire in the state. Columbus Fire Rescue, Absarokee fire crews, Park City fire crews and the Sheriff’s Office drew heavy support from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service.
DNRC spent more than $500,000 fighting the fire.