I count myself lucky three times. In each of the last three days we have had fires in our little named area with no services. Fortunately none of them have amounted to much.
On July 2nd, my guess is someone threw out a cigarette along the interstate. It quickly caught the grasses and burned up a stretch about 250 feet long between the interstate and the frontage road. Fortunately that day winds were calm, and it was caught before it rolled over the frontage road.
On July 3rd, on the other side of the interstate from where we live a grass fire spread and ended up in the surrounding timber. We were lucky on so many fronts. First the fire was in a sheltered area and the winds did not whip it into an immediate frenzy. Second the timber that it was trying to burn to was not affected by pine bark beetle, meaning it was not dead and dry. The last lucky break was that a nearby wildland fire could spare a couple of helicopters to come help. The first responders were volunteer firefighters from the city of Butte who came with their tanker trucks. Several other tanker trucks, other fire departments and agencies responded. Soon they they had a system where they were advising folks who needed to be evacuated, protecting homes, shuttling water and fighting the fire. Fire resources are thin, and on the ground firefighters are some of the most precious right now. I remember hearing chatter listening to the radio making sure that all the volunteers had an emergency fire shelter, standard protocol on a wildland firefighter uniform, but not likely for folks like the volunteers from town. Helicopters from the Pony fire in Montana, were really the saving grace allowing them to contain it to a small area. These helicopters for the next four hours would spend the time dipping and dropping water on the edges of the fire, then the hotspots, and trees that were unaccessable. Without the the helicopters this fire would have turned in to a full fledged “forest fire.” Folks in the foothills were for a time evacuated. Other locals were bringing horses into corrals close to the house and hooking up trailers to be on stand by to leave if need be. Though about 5 miles from the house, my single exit point was only about 3 miles from the fire. I did start the plan for what an exit would require; I got the cat kennel down, and ID’ed critical items on a list. I started watering and laying hose. I filled horse trough and rain barrels. You can never be prepared, but I was at least not going to be caught unaware. By 9 that night with the great work of the helicopter and the on the ground firefighters the fire was contained at something near 30 acres. We had dodged a serious threat.
Today 4th of July, the fire fighters had to bring their water tankers for a 3rd time! Another grass fire. This time set by one of the neighbors who was working on a fence project on my road. He was up doing some kind of metal grinding and a spark lit grasses and he could not get it out himself. 911 was on their way. Fortunately the winds that are now blowing out there now had not yet come up. It was more of a fire than one man could put out, but not travelling so fast that it was going to make my house. But once again the neighbors were out their laying hose and wetting things down.
All three of these fires were caused by carelessness and stupidity. People need to think. I watch fires in Eastern Montana that have burned over 380 square miles driven often by wind. Colorado fires small by comparison, but with so many people living in that urban interface, the impact has been devastating to hundreds of people as well. I listen to folks on the East coast talk about no power and think of the folks in Eastern Montana that have been without electricity for over a week now plugging away in the same situation. If we were to lose power it would not only would it impact our appliances, but it would also eliminate water for us, as we have wells out here. Without water the fire danger becomes even worse. We can not prevent nature caused fires, but we can all be much more careful out there. I am thankful for all our good luck and pray that this is the end of our close calls.