July 13, 2012

Up In Smoke

The last fond farewell. I was so happy to see it go! This was Tuesday, June 26, early in the morning. The tail end of our home time. We left for Billings at the crack of dawn...
and made fast tracks for town. It's probably in poor taste to say this, considering all the fires of late, but once I'd gotten all our stuff out of the truck, I kept hoping for a random electrical fire or maybe a well aimed bolt of lightening. I'd love for that truck to go up in smoke and be done with it!

Alas, no such luck. So it's sitting on the lot in Billings where Kenworth is trying to sell it for us on consignment. Fingers crossed that someone falls in love with it.

After dropping off the truck at the dealer, we ran around town finishing up some errands, and then hit the road home. We weren't even out of Billings before I noticed some ominous looking storm clouds to the north.
 Within minutes my heart dropped into my feet as I realized these were not storm clouds! It was smoke! What we were viewing from the interstate was the smoke from what would become known as the Dahl fire. Started by lightening on Monday night, the fire had quickly taken off in Montana's dryness, and was burning strong through the Bull Mountains south of Roundup. I would follow the progress of this fire for the next few days because we had acquaintances in that area, and I was worried for them.

Further down the highway, nearing Rosebud, another eerie column appeared to the south.
The smoke in this one is harder to see, and that actually is a storm cloud behind it. It wasn't as dramatic as the smoke clouds at Roundup, but it was still depressing to see. I decided later on that we must have been looking at smoke from a fire down near Lame Deer. In the days to come, this one would turn into one of the state's most devastating wild fires in history. Started the night of Monday, June 25, by lightening, the Ash Creek fire was just recently, finally contained. It burned a devastating 249,000 acres of southeastern Montana land. About 109,000 acres of that were privately owned ranch lands. Needless to say, there are a lot of people hurting from that fire. If you are familiar with "Feral Woman" and her blog, then you have seen her pictures and heard her story. If not, you can visit it with this link. She and her husband saved their home by the skin of their teeth, and from the sounds of it, were in great danger themselves.

Our friends in Roundup were not so lucky. After returning to work a few days later, our second load took us south out of Roundup down towards Billings. The road had just reopened, having been closed when the fire started crossing it a few days prior.
The fire was still burning, but had moved on east of the highway. The only evidence at first was the smoke hanging in the air, and then we began to see scorched places and burned grass. Some structures had clearly had a close call.
And others were not so lucky. Initially, when we had heard the fire was crossing US87, I'd had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, worried for a trucker that we used to haul cattle with. As we neared his place, our fears were confirmed.
Those whitish spots on the ground, seen through the haze of smoke, used to be a home and barns. Pretty much everything was burned to the ground. My heart is broken for him and his wife. I was so worried that he had been out on the road and that she had had to deal with the emergency on her own, but through a conversation with another acquaintance, we learned that in fact he had been home before the fire came and they were even able to remove their animals from the property. The cattle, horses, goats and llamas were all safe and accounted for. All that had been lost were a few geese and chickens. Such a relief to hear, though a small blessing in such a horrible experience.

During the last weeks of June and beginning of July it seemed like the west was going up in smoke! Only on the road for a week, it seemed like each new day exposed another fire to our view through the windshield.
We watched this smoke rising into the sky as we loaded in Nephi, UT on July 3.
And later that afternoon as we approached the outskirts of the Salt Lake City region, we couldn't help but notice these clouds. We'd just driven south through this area a few hours earlier and hadn't seen a thing. It was hard to believe that a fire had started and grown so much space in that short of a time, but it seems to have been the case.
The way smoke drifts on wind currents, you want to let yourself believe the fires aren't as big as they at first appear. But the closer you get, the harder it is to convince yourself.
And if you get close enough, you just can't stay in your imaginary safe world any more.
We left the house on a Thursday and spent 7 days running through at least 7 states, all of which had scenery hidden behind a cloud of smoky haze. Even on that last day at home, the smoke was so thick in the air we couldn't see many of the hills that surround us. And home was at least 100 miles as the crow flies from the closest fire, at least as far as I'm aware of.

The second week out things have remained extremely hot and dry, but the air had been a lot clearer. I'm hoping that means a lot of the fires have been subdued.

In my brief time living and driving in the west, I've learned that summer time and fires go hand in hand. But this year seems so extreme. I read in a news report last week that in an average year, 80% of fires in Montana are started by lightening. But this year, of the 300 fires so far, 85% of them have been human-caused. How can people be so careless when it is so obviously and horribly dry? Most of southeast Montana is just a tinder box waiting for the right spark. In fact, having finally gotten back to work and driven around these western states, I can tell you nearly every acre out in these western states is just waiting for the right conditions to go up in smoke! Let's pray that doesn't happen!
northwest of Forsyth, MT on July 12
Other than the fires, and a broken air conditioner (that's thankfully fixed now) and a few bumps and bruises as I adjust to maneuvering around the new truck, things are going great! We have been back to work for two weeks now. I have lots of pictures to share, but made the mistake of getting involved in a couple of really good books. As a result, everything else has been neglected, including my sleep. But I do want to catch you up to date. We have a couple days lay over at home this weekend because Minnesota doesn't want their barley till Monday, so maybe I can get some posts written during that time. For now, Paris is in the living room crying because she wants me to come sit on the couch with her. I think I might just take her up on her request. She thinks we ought to cuddle on the couch and start the next book in that series we're reading. She loves our reading time. I think she has a good idea!


MTWaggin said...

I'm with you Sarah, how can people be so careless? I have friends in Roundup that lost both of their homes (they are sisters) as well as their Mom's home and their grooming business. Last year they were flooded out. So sad. Stay safe and look at that sexy new truck! :)

Dreaming said...

Enjoy your new truck and stay safe on the road. The fires are scary. Luckily, as far as I know, most of the Colorado fires are contained.
We flew back to CO on July 1. We could see the smoke from two of the fires a long way off.

Badlands said...

Feral Woman's blog almost makes me throw up. How VERY sad and disturbing.
My heart aches for all the people affected by the terrible fires everywhere.
There for the Grace of God go I.......

Lana said...

Wow! This was truly an adventure. I've never really seen what the fires look like from a distance, such as what you captured and I might have thought they were odd low laying clouds as well. Glad you shared so many wonderful shots and details. My heart goes out to everyone impacted with loss and who were terrified by these fires.


Michaele said...

You certainly brought us a perspective on the fires. How very sad for the states experiencing this and for your truck-driver friend. Awesome last photo : ) You and Paris have fun now.