July 2, 2009
November 1, 2007
For the first two hours of today’s hunt, I thoroughly enjoyed walking in the footprints of deer and elk and moose. The temperature was in the 40′s but the wind was strong and cold. For about three miles, I stayed below the ridge tops and hunted the semi-open hillsides where the game would be bedded down out of the wind, resting up for their night time feeding forays.
After making about half of a large circle, it was finally time to cross over the high country and complete the circle back to where the Jeep was parked. On the route I chose, three ridges converged at a peak, and upon reaching it, this is what was there; not exactly what I wanted to see!
While it looks like flat, open country in the photo, it is actually just a level area atop a high ridge: the terrain falls off sharply in all directions. This is state land and it was selectively logged during the summer. Apparently a slash pile (tree limbs, branches, smaller trees and brush) had been burned earlier, but it didn’t burn completely and some coals still smoldered deep within the pile. By the time I arrived, the wind had reached about 30 – 35 miles per hour, blowing from right to left in the photo and fanned the coals into a very hot fire. Beyond the clearing and down off the sides of the ridge there were multiple canyons filled with thickets and some old-growth timber; not the place where you would want a fire with that kind of wind! It made an abrupt end to the hunt!
After a hard hour’s hike cross-country to the Jeep and a half hour’s drive into the local DNRC to report and locate the fire on their maps, I returned home feeling pleased that I had chosen that particular area to hunt today and had discovered early what could have developed into a very serious problem.
October 22, 2007
One week ago the last of the access roads into the area of the Chippy Creek fire were re-opened and so yesterday I was able to make my first brief visit into one small part of the burned area near Thompson Peak for a few photos.
The fire started on July 31, 2007 and burned from the west, ten miles east across the Cabinet Mountain range, then spread fifteen miles north and south, consuming a total of one hundred and fifty square miles. On August 14th from a mountain ten miles to the south of Thompson Peak I took this photograph which shows the smoke column from the fire then burning in this exact area:
Following are a few scenes of the southwest slope of Thompson Peak photographed yesterday, showing where all that smoke came from. As with any large forest fire, there are areas within its borders where the vegetation was totally consumed, other areas where the flames swept through too rapidly to burn everything but hot enough to kill the trees, and a few small areas which escaped with only minor damage.
October 17, 2007
I like this photograph, not because it’s a great photograph but because of the elements of the natural process that it contains.
The tree trunks are black from the fire in 2002 which killed about 50,000 acres of the forest which is sad, but:
- New green pines can be seen which in due time will replace the dead ones and the clump of willows provides cover and food for the animals.
- The blow-downs in the foreground will decompose and return nutriments to the soil.
- The standing dead trees for several years now have been providing a renewable and economical energy source for many of us to use in heating our homes.
- The traces of red are the fall color of huckleberry bushes which took advantage of the openings to the sky and are now growing where they could not grow before.
- In the burned areas after a fire, the low growing grasses and shrubs provide excellent food for wildlife, and these four Mule deer are typical of those who use it to their advantage.
- The bare, tan-colored stalks in the foreground are the stalks of bear grass which have provided beautiful summer blossoms in the burn area ever since the first summer after the fire.
Nature is quietly doing what She does so well.
(This setting is at an altitude of about 6,000 feet in the burn area of the Siegel Creek fire of 2002. It is in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains of western Montana.)
September 18, 2007
The evening was slightly cooler than the day had been and clouds covered the sky to the southwest, the direction from which weather always approaches. From the TV the sportscaster’s voices droned on, peaked with excitement at a nice play and then leveled off going into a commercial: the game was reasonably interesting but not what might be thought of as exciting. Through the south windows came a bright flash, then another. Lightning; hopefully, just “heat” lightning (the local term for cloud-to-cloud) strikes. Ten more minutes, then the unmistakable booms of thunder were heard and the tall pines near the front of the house began to bow before the wind. The cat slunk, low-to-the-floor, into the nearest bedroom to seek sanctuary under the bed from the clamor of the storm. We were being hammered!
A slight press on the “check” button of the pager yielded the high-pitched “beep” that meant that it was OK, and attention shifted back to the game, for however long it would last before power went out as it so often did during these brief but violent storms.
Only minutes passed before the pager began emitting its initial burst of loud shrieking tones followed by the usual burst of static and then the voice of dispatch: “Rural Fire, Rural Fire, please respond to a lightning strike and fire at 11 Sunset Drive and also at 9 Sunset Drive”. The message was repeated again before the Jeep was fired up and pointed toward the fire hall four miles away and several more times before arrival there.
The doors of two bays of the fire hall were already open as the Jeep slid to a stop in the parking area in front of the building, and one of the brush trucks was outside; the engine of the one behind it was just turning over. A quick dash into the hall, a few seconds to slide into the waiting boots, pull up the bulky trousers, grab the heavy coat and helmet, then a run to the waiting truck. Hardly more than five minutes now since the first burst from the pager.
As I climbed into the cab of the second truck I could see that the driver was our Chief. I had only met and talked with him a few times, but he seemed to know his business and was a very dedicated firefighter. He had eight years of experience with rural fire departments in a couple of different states. This was my first fire response and tonight I would get to know him much better!
The first truck was headed to the scene which turned out to be about five miles to the north, and our truck was less than a minute behind. The flashes of red, blue, yellow and white that reflected from the trees and hillsides as we passed were a little distracting, and the sound of the siren seemed to come from far away as its echoes came back to us, but it was really right overhead, just a couple of feet away.
There was a short adrenalin rush, caused by the interest in a new situation, but it was suddenly amplified by additional information from dispatch. “Occupants of the structure at 11 Sunset Drive require assistance in getting out of the building”; not good news (I wonder exactly what that means, but will find out in a couple more minutes.) Dispatch again: “The wind is moving the fire to the North and it’s about to enter the timber”. The adrenalin level increased considerably more: that was not good news either!
Another mile and another burst from dispatch: “The occupants of 11 Sunset Drive no longer require assistance: that has been taken care of”. That was good news! Must have been done by law enforcement. The fire was now in sight and the first glance showed that it consisted of a circle of flame three to seven feet high and about fifty yards in diameter. The structures were about one hundred yards north of the county road, and the wind was moving the fire directly toward them.
As we entered the gravel drive, we could see that the flames extended completely across the yard in front of the main house and had swept past it on the east side, burning grass and brush and down trees and heading toward the timber. The first truck pulled up and stopped in front and to the east of the house, which put it behind the fire and in a position to attack the flames threatening the front and side of the structure. There was a driveway around to the west side, and the Chief swung our truck around that way, proceeding around the structure and continuing on until we were directly in front of the fire, between it and the timber where we plowed to a stop. Immediately I knew that the Chief was OK. It took confidence and nerve in equal proportions to commit to that position. This was a guy I could get along with! A no-nonsense leader.
Before the truck came to a complete stop we were out and at the back (the business end) of the truck. The Chief started the pump motor, grabbed the hose nozzle, released the detent on the hose reel and headed toward the flames, yelling for me to activate the remaining controls of the pump and feed him hose. It was a beautiful thing to see fifty feet of flame-killing foam pouring out of the nozzle, completely snuffing the leading wall of flames as he swept it across the fire front. Twenty minutes into the attack and the progress of the forward wall of the fire was stopped. The other unit had also successfully stopped the flames at the front of the structure, and at the same time saved an RV which had flames right up against one side when we arrived.
Another hour and a half of pouring foam and water on the fire, sometimes from within its perimeter, interrupted by a second brief response to a call for a power line down situation a few miles away, then an hour of “mop up” in the dark and the incident came to a successful conclusion.
There were no injuries, nothing of value lost, no damage to equipment, and some valuable experience obtained by this new member of Rural Fire. Rapid response and a fast and aggressive attack had saved two homes and perhaps a million dollars worth of timber.
Note: I know this is a little different than my usual posts, but it does describe a little bit of another facet of the world outside the cities. I hope it provides a little insight into what it can sometimes be like in the interesting world of emergency response.
August 27, 2007
At one hundred thousand acres, it looks like this fire will not grow larger now, but inside the perimeter some of it will probably continue to burn until the snow comes.
The southwest corner from five miles away:
The northeast corner from twenty+ miles away:
These last two large plumes of smoke are over fifteen miles apart, and the forest that was between them has all burned.
I will spend tomorrow morning on a high trail five miles to the west of the fire where the country is still wild and green. On my list for later this summer was a hike through the high country in the middle of the area that has burned. I’m sad that the hike won’t happen now, and seeing that country as it was just a month ago won’t be possible now for another hundred years.
This area was a special place for me, and was the scene of a post I wrote some time ago, Howard.