September 2, 2012
August 1, 2011
A thunderstorm swept through our area early Sunday morning and one of the lightning strikes started a small fire on a steep and rugged mountainside.
The fire is only 20-some acres in size but practically inaccessible except by air and is being fought by a couple of helicopters which are scooping up buckets of water from the near-by river and dumping them on the fire perimeter and hot spots to contain it. The planes being used are fairly small and they are using different size and style of buckets, each sized (by volume of water) to the size and power of the helicopter.
(After closer inspection of the previous photo I cropped it to better show an osprey who seemed to be supervising the bucket filling activity, possibly to assure that no fish got scooped up into the buckets.)
The pilots are highly skilled at operating in adverse conditions and close proximity to trees, power lines and bridges, as can be seen in the following photos of the bucket-filling operation.
July 23, 2009
From the National Weather Service website: “A RED FLAG WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 AM MDT FRIDAY.
THE ATMOSPHERE HAS BECOME UNSTABLE TODAY WITH THUNDERSTORMS DEVELOPING NEAR THE IDAHO AND CANADIAN BORDERS. ADDITIONAL THUNDERSTORMS WILL DEVELOP AND MOVE EAST ACROSS NORTHWEST MONTANA OVERNIGHT. THESE THUNDERSTORMS ARE CAPABLE OF PRODUCING SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS OF LIGHTNING…RESULTING IN NEW LIGHTNING STARTS ACROSS PORTIONS OF NORTHWEST MONTANA. IN ADDITION…THESE STORMS DO NOT HAVE MUCH IN THE WAY OF RAINFALL ASSOCIATED WITH THEM DUE TO THE DRY LOWER ATMOSPHERE. DRIER CONDITIONS NEAR THE SURFACE IS ALSO CONDUCIVE TO GUSTY ERRATIC WINDS THAT CAN BE PRODUCED BY THESE THUNDERSTORMS.
A RED FLAG WARNING IS INTENDED TO ALERT LAND MANAGERS TO EXPECT WEATHER CONDITIONS ALONG WITH SUFFICIENTLY DRY FUELS THAT WILL SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE FIRE DANGER.”
As I recall, the last time we had a red flag warning was in July of 2007 and about two weeks later the Chippy Creek Fire started. It burned 150 square miles.
In addition, the forecast is for dry thunderstorms through Sunday. It may be a long weekend!
April 7, 2009
Spring around here starts off not only the wildflower season, but another season as well; the wildfire season. This afternoon we responded to the first wildland fire of this year. We haven’t received our usual amount of spring rain and the woods are already very dry: it looks like it will be a long, long summer if we don’t get more rain!
Before the fire call came though I was able to find a few wildflowers. The Buttercups have been out for over a month and now just seem to cover the ground in places. Yellowbells have also been out for a while now and have become more numerous too. (They are a western wildflower and grow only in eleven western states.) Fritillaria pudica
Yellowbell, Goldcup, Fritillaria pudica
Another tiny western flower, the Woodland Star, began to bloom only in the past few days.
Bulbous woodland-star, lithophragma glabrum
Since I greatly prefer the wildflowers, I am hoping for a lot more rain!
May 2, 2008
In a rural area something that is missing is infrastructure, some would say by definition. Others might say that the infrastructure isn’t exactly missing, but those who live there often are the infrastructure. I was reminded of that yesterday when a call came over my pager inviting those of us who belong to the Rural Fire Department to go to the scene of a brush fire that was trying to get up into the timber. A house was near but not immediately threatened. In an urban area a fire call is answered by a professional team of firefighters: in a rural area it is answered by those of us who volunteer.
Despite the cold temperatures of a lingering winter and the fact that this area received far more than normal snowfall during the winter, the lower valley areas are already very dry and I’m afraid (I sure hope I’m wrong!) that the fire season started yesterday.
Eight miles from town as we approached mile marker 67, the dispatcher’s location for the fire, we could see a column of smoke coming from a shelf area a few hundred feet above the highway and off to the right a half mile or so. The voice of our chief who was in the lead truck came over the radio informing us where to turn off to get into that area.
Thanks to some good thinking and planning by the senior staff in our department, we have in our arsenal three wildland fire engines (brush trucks) which are light trucks which carry 300 gallons of water, a pump system which injects foam, creating a water-foam mix that is incredibly efficient and room for extra hose and all our other gear. The 4X4 F350 that I drove today had all it could do with all six wheels spinning to climb a steep trail up the mountainside to get into the right position for delivering our foam to the head of the fire.
After three and a half hours with crews working from our brush trucks, a crew from the state DNRC and a crew from the USFS the fire was out and being mopped up. We used over 1500 gallons of water and foam, filling each truck twice from our 3000 gallon water tender also near the scene, got filthy and smelly and had a wonderful time. Sometimes it’s fun to be a part of the infrastructure!
As far as I was concerned, the best reward came just as we were wrapping everything up when about 20 Bighorn sheep strolled out into a small clearing a hundred yards away and stood looking at us as if to say “thanks for protecting our home”.
December 14, 2007
Half a dozen times lately I have written versions of this story and each time deleted them, thinking that it dwelled too much on negatives, but because I seem to have such a compulsion to tell the story, I finally decided I would.
Fourteen years ago I moved with my family back to Montana where I was born and raised. We settled into a rural area and made our home on the last remaining little piece of a ranch my grandparents started in about 1916. It’s nice to have roots.
In Montana, as I’m sure it is all over these United States, the small towns and surrounding rural areas can’t afford all of the infrastructure that the big cities can, one of those being a fire department. In its place we form “Rural or Volunteer Fire Departments” staffed and operated solely by volunteers. Grant money from various sources is usually available for equipment and there are always several viable sources for operating funds which, since there are no salaries involved, really don’t add up to all that much. These departments are surprisingly efficient.
Not long after we settled here, wanting to do my part in supporting the community, I inquired into the situation at the Rural Fire Department and was told that they had a full staff of 20 people, but would put my name on a long waiting list and perhaps in a few years there would be room for me in the department. The situation was the same with the town fire department in the small town not far from my home, and they required besides that their members live in town.
In subsequent years I pretty much forgot about Rural Fire, mostly because during all those years I had to work in places far from home and couldn’t be available to the department anyway. Once the time came when I was able to be at home again I didn’t think much about it until one day last fall there was a story in the local paper that said Rural Fire was in badly in need of volunteers. When I called the chief and asked if he could use an old gaffer who still had a couple good years left I was welcomed with open arms. We met at the fire hall, I was issued all my “turn-out” and wildland fire gear and a pager and became a volunteer fireman with the Rural Fire Department. I have to confess I don’t especially enjoy being called out to incidents at any time of the day or night to do things that are always strenuous and dirty and at the very best aren’t a whole lot of fun, but I also know that I wouldn’t sleep well at night if I knew that at any time someone may be desperately in need of help and no one would be there to answer their call.
Two weeks ago another story appeared in the local paper, this one about the town’s fire department. Interest has severely waned there and their supply of volunteers has dwindled away, the Chief resigned because of lack of cooperation and availability of people, and now there is no one left to respond to emergency fire calls in the town. Thirteen hundred people live inside that town’s city limits and yet not enough of them will volunteer to be able to operate a fire department. To my way of thinking, the most significant thing about that whole sad situation in that pathetic little town was the response of the residents and business owners who were interviewed for the story: their first concern was not that lives and property are in danger, but that now their insurance rates will triple!
What could possibly have changed so drastically in the last 10 to 15 years? Is this sort of thing prevailing in small towns and rural communities all over the country? I have a sense that it is. And to me, the most important question: if this type of total selfishness and apathy is really growing at what appears to be an exponential rate, who then will exert themselves to protect the natural world upon which our very species depends for its existence?
Across the world we are now focusing intently on greenhouse gasses, but I would suggest that global warming itself is nothing more than one more symptom of a malady that has settled into the hearts and minds and motivation of our people.