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We had a forest fire come not 300 yards of our house yesterday. It came within 20 feet of our favorite nun's house. She never left, either. She and two neighbors remained and watered their houses and yards with hoses while the fires burned behind them. Montana woman, born and bred.
It started on Wednesday night from lightning, and immediately after that we had a terrible windstorm (gusts up to 70 mph -- it knocked over billboards and fences and some propane tanks) that lasted all night. The three of us girls had been in Billings that evening and when we returned home around 1 am we could smell the smoke and see it coming from the ridge behind the mission (which is just across the street), but it looked like the fire department was out there, so we went to bed peacefully. Apparently, the fire was not fully extinguished that night because:
Yesterday morning, it didn't look too bad -- a bit hazy, and the wind was blowing steadily at maybe 30 mph. It was so dry, hot, and windy as I walked to school -- I have to say I love that about the summer weather here. I love feeling my cheeks bake. Around 10:30, when I was out on the playground with my students, we could see the ridge smoking and it looked worse, but the smoke was white and the locals didn't seem concerned. When we took the kids to the pool at 1 pm, the campus was full of white smoke and I ran home to get my camera. When I came out, I could see the flames on the ridge from my front yard, and just as I stepped into the street, the air raid siren started.
I don't know if my pictures came out too well.
I ran across the campus to the pool, from where the kids and my roommates were walking back. The director of schools told us that the bus was going to take the kids back in a few minutes and we needed to go back to our building and call their parents.
[Side note: we have a brother and sister who have such a crappy family, it makes me want to punch somebody. They're both meth babies, the girl affected to a degree that her facial features are deformed, and their mom is the biggest pile you can imagine. When M. called their mom to tell her her kids would be home 2 hours early because a FIRE wasn't 100 yards from their school, she bitched because the bus wouldn't drop them off at her house but at the Boys and Girls club less than a mile down the street. HATE.]
It's funny how easy it is to be calm for others' sake. We didn't know when the bus would come, so we sat down in our classroom and started playing games. Well, most of us sat down -- one boy ran around pretending to freak out, shrieking, "we're all going to die," and he wasn't serious...he just felt like riling the others up. I generally like that boy, because he's just a spaz and not usually malicious, but I wanted to smack him. On the other hand, he called out "shalom!" to me as I put him on the bus, and I was impressed that he remembered that word after I taught it to him last month.
Anyway, once the kids were sent home, the men by the bus told us to evacuate. Staring around my room, wondering what to take with me and what I could replace should it burn, was an experience I didn't think I'd have in my lifetime. By happy coincidence, all of my roommates and I share an instinct to joke during a crisis (it would suck if half of us were like that and the other half were determined to panic), and we were in hysterics (probably literally) as we packed up. We said we would play Elton John's "Burn Down the Mission" when we get back, if our records haven't melted.
We passed one of the fires on the road as we drove out of town and up a little hill to where the middle school principal and his wife, the high school guidance counselor, live. These are among the most generous people I know -- they open their house to everyone. We sat out on their hill, on lawn chairs, drinking lemonade, watching the fires burn. There were actually 4 or 5 separate fires that we could see. The two which concerned us the most were the fires on the hill behind a neighborhood called Rabbit Town, and the fire in the powwow grounds. If the Rabbit Town fire burned through the neighborhood, because all of those poor people would be out of their homes, but the old saw mill would be next. If the powwow grounds fire came out of the woods, it would reach the field that serves as a propane tank depot.
This is right across the street.
Once and a while you'd hear a boom and then see black smoke -- we learned later these were abandoned cars going up.
Ach, I need to go now, but can you guess I'm alive?
Billings Gazette article
its going to be so brutally hot this weekend, things could change for the worse. theose firefighters sure have some balls, to head out in 110 degree heat and go snuggle up to 100 foot flames to dig fire trenches.
hope all is well in montana. sounds nice to sit and drink lemonade and not worry too much. makes me think of how people would pack a picnic and go watch watch the rebs and yanks go at it one fine afternoon in say...gettysburg.
can you imagine?
It's dang hot here. It's 102 degrees and 12% humidity.
There are two huge fires outside of Billings -- one 40,000+ acre (at least it was last night) at a train yard, and one that's in five separate pockets south of Billings. There's a ~20,000 fire around Hardin, which is interesting because they have an ethanol refinery there. We actually saw the smoke from that fire and another fire that might have been the Bundy train yard fire on Wednesday night when we went to Billings. (By the way, "Pirates of the Caribbean 2"? Rocks.)
There's another fire in the hills maybe 30 miles from us, around Sonnette.
I took these photos in the fall:
This has burned
I'm standing on a hill that has burned and you can see how close the Mission is to the river. See the road in the bottom left corner? The fire was all along the road, continuing off to the left, and the road arcs around to those trees that are on the far left there. I should draw a map in Paint so you can see.
The trees in all those sunset pictures I posted have burned. Like these trees.
It's still smoking everywhere. There's a spot by the ranch that burned that's pouring white smoke, but you can't see any flames, so maybe that's a good thing.
early yesterday morning
smoke on the mission as we were leaving
fire in the powwow grounds
cars burning in the powwow grounds (the propane tanks are in the field in the midground, just to the left)
Powwow arena (the fire reached within 5 feet, in the back)
hills burning behind Rabbit Town (at one point the flames were 40-50 feet high)
the fire jumped the river
fireline almost reached the Heights
behind Sr. Bernadette's house
fireline nearly reached her garage
Sr. B surveys damage
Water tower hill this morning
the summer i spent in california building a house, i lived in avery, which is on hwy 4 between angel's camp and arnold. elevation 4000ish feet, calaveras county, of which mark twain wrote about. there was a plague of fires in the sierra that year, 1992. the year ross perot elected clinton.
one of them burned up to the ridge behind the house i was living in, sheep ranch road, about 3/4 mile away. the whole area was evacuated to bear valley resort for a couple days. it was marshall law. we were told that, if we stayed behind, we couldn't leave our house or risk being shot as a looter. probably bullshit, but we evacuated regardless. it was too smoky to stay.
up at bear valley, my dog chased after a deer that nearly led her off a cliff. we went running after her and found her a couple minutes later standing on the edge of a 400-500 foot cliff that appeared unexpectedly out of the brush, growling at the deer that was a couple hundred feet below and descending the cliffside on a very precarious trail.
i had just come out of a 4-5 year relationship (6-7 if you figger in the pre-relationship period). listened to a lot of basehead.
consider the positives, man. consider the positives.
glad THAT'S history.
Yesterday, we drove into the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming (where "Brokeback Mountain" was set, incidentally), and as we travelled the entire reservation was blanketed with smoke -- the two big fires near Hardin and Billings have grown in size to nearly 90,000 acres and 70,000 acres, respectively, and according to http://www.inciweb.org/10.2.a./, they're not close to being contained.
The smoke was blown into Wyoming, into the plains around the mountains. Fortunately, as you drive up into the range, the air clears, which is excellent because that's an insanely beautiful area (see it here.
We went to the site of the Medicine Wheel and then tried to go to the rodeo finals in Sheridan, but it was sold out (damn it). Before that, though, we went to church and all three of us girls later confessed that we were totally distracted by the beautiful man in front of us (who was with his wife and three kids, but that's beside the point). He had a wonderful nose -- long and straight, with flared nostrils. Ah.
From 3 - 5 am, Friday morning, we walked in the Relay for Life in Lame Deer -- very surreal. Walking in the dark, listening to drumming, watching the morning star rise over the hills. (The Cheyenne are the Morning Star People.)
Gosh, I walked around 10 miles yesterday and didn't feel it.