GARNET GHOST TOWN — The Anderson Hill Fire burning in Granite and Powell counties has now burned almost 800 acres and is dangerously close to one of Montana's favorite landmarks -- Garnet Ghost Town.
Each year, the gravel roads of this ghost town see 30,000 visitors, but this week the town is living up to its name.
The grounds have been closed to visitors due to the Anderson Hill fire, which is burning only a mile away.
“To my knowledge, the fire started by lightning,” said incident commander Erik Newell.
Lightning strikes are the cause of 44% of wildfires across the Western US according to the US Forest Service.
“Over the course of a few days, resources were scarce and getting folks in to actually suppress the fire was a challenge,” Newell told MTN News.
The night of the fire’s start, staff at Garnet Ghost Town captured photos of a red sky from their vantage point at the ghost town.
The evening served as an eerie reminder of a similar scenario two decades ago.
“Oh yeah, in 2000 the Ryan Gulch fire was here too, so it was really worrisome,” said Maria Craig, recreation planner for the Bureau of Land Management.
Initially reported as 10 acres, the Anderson Hill fire has grown to nearly 800, burning only one mile southeast of Montana’s most intact ghost town.
A real-life storybook of Montana’s mining history, Garnet hasn’t been called “home” by anyone since the 1940s, but the structures bring people from all over the world together.
In developing a plan to fight this fire, the historical value couldn’t be understated.
“You would lose an important part of history...you would lose kids being able to come up here and learn about the past,” said Craig.
“So, yes, nobody's here, but there is some value behind the historical significance of the ghost town,” echoed Newell. “So we would do what we can within reason, without jeopardizing firefighter safety. There's just no ghost town worth anybody's life.”
Spoiler alert, Garnet still stands -- and it's in good hands.
While firefighting efforts have been taxing, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been preparing for this moment since their last fire scare.
“Following those fires in the early 2000s, we went into action and planned some fuels reduction treatments around the town itself,” said BLM Missoula field manager Erin Carey.
“So today, when you look around the town you'll see that about 300 acres in a circle, all around this area has had about two-thirds of the overstory removed and almost all of the understory removed. That was done between 2008 and 2010.” - BLM Missoula field manager Erin Carey
Years later, the Fuels Reduction Stewardship Project serves as a crucial mitigation measure reducing the risk of a catastrophic wildfire from affecting Garnet Ghost Town.
Because of this project, a dedicated team of firefighters, and the staff who bring Montana’s history to life, this ghost town will once again welcome lively visitors -- hopefully in no time at all.
“Here I want people to be able to step back in time and experience what it was like to live 120 years ago,” said Craig.
“The BLM is going to do everything that we can to make sure that future generations can enjoy this place as well,” said Carey.
Garnet Ghost Town is still closed to the public at this time, but with 30% of the fire now contained, incident commander Erik Newell says Garnet has a higher chance of being threatened by a new lightning strike than the Anderson Hill fire.