Montana Outdoors

June 20, 2008

The longest three mile trail in Montana (Part 1)

It began yesterday and will continue tomorrow (at least the posting part of it).

It’s time to replenish the firewood supply for winter and we’ve been working quite diligently on doing just that. Early yesterday morning I tackled the job of splitting and stacking the last of the wood my son and I have hauled down from the high country and before noon it was all split and stacked: three full cords so far; 15,000 pounds of beautiful, dry, hard lodgepole pine.

As a reward to myself for swinging a 6 pound splitting axe for three hours, I then decided a ride on the Wing would do very nicely and so headed for a spot about thirty miles away, combining the ride with taking a look for the trail head of a trail I’ve been wanting to hike. It’s a trail (USFS trail 205) which travels right through the middle of the Patrick’s Knob roadless area with the top at 5,000 feet at the high ridge of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains and the bottom along the Clark Fork River at 2,500 feet. I had hiked just a little of the top end but didn’t know exactly where it came out at the bottom, and I had planned to hike it from the top down. According to the Forest Service, the trail is three miles long.

Finding the trail head turned out to be an easy thing to do and I hiked a mile or so of the lower part of the trail and headed home a little after one. About ten miles east of the town near where I live I could see a huge column of smoke above town and I immediately headed for our Rural Fire headquarters. Turns out there were two houses burning and I then spent four hours battling those blazes. It all made for a long day!

Today I hiked the trail from the bottom to the top and back down. I knew what the change of altitude would be, but I’ll guarantee that whoever in the Forest Service decided it was a three mile long trail has never hiked it! I’ll describe it a little more next post and show a few more photos, but for now, here’s one of a pretty little wildflower I have never seen before. There are a few growing in one small area along trail 205 at an elevation of about 4,500 feet.

Tricolor Monkeyflower, mimulus tricolorUnidentified

May 2, 2008

I’m afraid it has begun

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”.

March 17, 2008

How sweet it is when you win!

Filed under: Montana, Outdoors, Rural fire department, Volunteerism — Tags: , — montucky @ 10:44 pm

At 5:30 this afternoon, right smack in the middle of the very best Reuben sandwich I’ve ever eaten, my Rural Fire Department pager went off and I had to scramble to the scene of a chimney fire. As opposed to the fire of last Monday, this one was reported early and was close to our fire hall. Although the smoke could be seen from two miles away, we were able to get there quickly, extinguish the fire and save the home. The owners were happy to deal with the damage we had to cause to get it all out.

For those not familiar with chimney fires, they can sometimes burn hot enough to ignite the roof and surrounding flue materials, as was the case today. Had we not gotten there in time, that house would have been completely destroyed.

Take it from me, it’s a terrific feeling to get there in time to control the situation and then leave knowing that we saved a home! And that Reuben, after being warmed up a little, tasted even better at 7:00!

December 15, 2007

That’s why!

Filed under: Montana, Outdoors, Rural fire department — Tags: , — montucky @ 11:37 pm

I have been troubled for the last several months by the difficulty we face in staffing our volunteer Rural Fire Department and the general feeling of apathy of so many of the people in the area as well as the lack of cooperation we encounter. We receive no pay when we work hard and take risks to save a business, and yet if we trade there they don’t mind charging us full price. The hospital expects us to risk our lives to provide protection to their facility for no pay and yet if we need their services they will charge us $400 an hour (as I recently found out). I often wonder just why anyone would volunteer to do this: I ask myself why I do it.

Last week after responding to a scene where a truck had caught on fire and the fire was threatening a home, as I helped extinguish the blaze I glanced over at the house and there in a second story window was the face of a child, a little girl of four or five years, looking out with her nose pressed against the window pane, her eyes wide with excitement and wonder and maybe a little fright at the sight of the trucks with their bright flashing lights and all the firemen in their bulky yellow suits. Suddenly the answer swept over me with a warm wave of understanding: that’s why!

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