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Remnants of St. Joe cedars tell fire’s tale

Hundred-year-old cedars that burned in the Great Fire of 1910 line the road to Moon Pass outside Wallace, Idaho. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

The Valley of the Ghosts contains the hulking snags of cedars burned by the 1910 Fire.

Swampy cedar bogs surrounded the north fork of the St. Joe River before the fire swept through the area.

“Normally, these sites are way too wet to sustain significant fire,” said Jason Kirchner, a spokesman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. The fact that they burned illustrates the fire’s intensity.

“Some of the trees were estimated at 500 years old,” Kirchner said. “The fire decimated a centuries-old forest that’s not going to grow back.”

The loss of the shade-cover from mature trees prevented young cedars from taking root after the fire. Shrubs filled in the open ground. When the Forest Service replanted cedars in the area, gophers ate the roots, killing the new trees.

Today, the snags are surrounded by brushy willows, alder and wild roses. Swallows dart through the thickets.

Some of the ghost snags have fallen over. Others still point skyward.

“They’re a dramatic reminder on the landscape,” Kirchner said.