Loggers are in race with the weather to complete a salvage logging project around trailheads impacted by last summer’s Roaring Lion Fire.

On Wednesday, the three-man crew from Potomac was working to harvest hundreds of fire-killed trees on the 45-acres surrounding the Roaring Lion, Sawtooth and Ward Mountain trailheads.

The conditions couldn’t have been better for the winter logging operation, but the forecast for warmer temperatures and rain was worrisome.

“We need 10 inches of snow or frozen ground for this operation,” said the Bitterroot National Forest’s Jon Garlitz. “We have the snow cover we need right now to make this work, but underneath all this snow, the ground is not frozen.”

If the rains come and the snow melts, the logging operation could be forced to cease until the conditions improve.

If the loggers have to wait too long, the value of the timber headed to two Montana mills could diminish.

The salvage sale is expected to produce about 100 truckloads of logs that will be hauled to mills in St. Regis and Seeley Lake.

Tricon Timber of St. Regis purchased the sale. All the Douglas fir and small ponderosa pine will go to that mill.

The fire also killed some 300-year-plus ponderosa pine trees that will eventually be made into window sashes at Pyramid Lumber in Seeley Lake.

“These trees were large when Lewis and Clark came through the valley,” said Ryan Hughes of the Bitterroot Forest.

The large trees – some as big as 42 inches wide – were cut down by an experienced hand sawyer. The mechanical clippers used by the logging operation can handle logs only about half that size.

Some of those large trees had to be left behind because they were filled with lead bullets after being used for target practice by people for years.

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“The sawyer buggered up his saw several times after hitting lead in the trees,” Garlitz said. “They painted a blue line on the trees above where they thought the lead would be, but they still found some big chunks higher than they expected.”

If the weather holds, the project is expected to last about two or three more weeks. Logging trucks were scheduled to start bringing out logs Thursday.

Even if the salvage logging wraps up by the end of February, Bitterroot National Forest officials said it will probably take a little more time before the public will be allowed to reenter the area.

“It’s going to be springish before that happens,” said Darby District Ranger Eric Winthers.

The popular trailheads have been closed since July 31 when the 8,700-acre Roaring Lion Fire started.