Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fire On BLM Land

Late yesterday afternoon we had something in Cody that we have not had in a long time.
Lots of rain, and lots of thunder and lightning.
LC and I watched as bands of rain and ominous looking clouds made their way over both Carter and Rattlesnake Mountains.
Fascinated, I watched both rain storms, wondering if they would actually make it to Cody this time.
All summer I have watched rain storms fight to make their way over these mountain ranges.
Many times I was convinced that bad storms were going to hit us, and many times I was fooled.
The rain just could not clear the mountains and inevitably it ended up circling completely around us and missing this small western town altogether.
Not this time.
By 6pm we battened down the hatches - closing truck and house windows as it became increasingly obvious that we were going to get hit and hit hard.
By 6:15pm my scaredy-dog was hunkered down in the safety of her bunker under our desk in the living room, we were completely enveloped in rain, thunder and lightning, and could do nothing but just wait it out.
It did not last long.
Fifteen minutes after it began it was done - passing quickly over us and then continuing its journey east across the BLM hills behind our house.
LC opened the front door and we looked out over the sky realizing that it was over, and then we looked out onto BLM land down the road towards some of our neighbors homes.................
The house in this picture is about 1/4 mile from us and many of these pictures are not good (many are zoomed in too far and many are without enough light) but I posted them anyway because this is both mine and LC's first up-close encounter with a wild fire.
It was started by the dangerous combination of absolutely bone dry BLM land and a lightning strike from the storm.
Seeing the fire behind the house of one of our neighbors LC called the fire department.  They already knew about it and were on the way................
If you click on any of the pictures is will open up a slide show of larger pictures.
As fire trucks began to arrive LC and I watched them in surprise, as they searched for an entrance to BLM land.
One of the neighbors eventually pointed the trucks in the right direction and we again watched as they slowly worked their way on rutted out and now-muddy public lands.
One large truck missed the BLM entrance altogether and wandered down a neighbors' dirt driveway before finding the right entrance.
I had always made the assumption that local fire fighters would be familiar with the location of all the BLM entry ways in the area (particularly those located close to residential areas) but watching them try to locate access I realized that that was not the case. was good to see that they were on their way, and LC and I continued to watch the fire behind the house of one of our neighbors, concerned for their home and concerned at the size of the fire (that now appeared to be taking on a life of its own).
We did not know our neighbors well but we knew them and liked them, and continued watching as fire trucks slowly drove across BLM lands while flames continued to spread and reach higher into the sky................
The weather by this time was unsettled - mostly clearing but occasionally drizzling for a few minutes before stopping again.
The flames that we had seen towards the left of the smoke eventually disappeared and from where we stood it looked as though the fire was beginning to move in a westerly direction.
Winds occasionally gusted from the east, indeed pushing the fire west..................
Yes, the fire was definitely on the move, and heading to our right......................
We had been watching the fire for almost 30 minutes by this time and while our first neighbor (and their home) seemed to be out of danger, we watched with concern as it now appeared to have moved directly behind another neighbor's home.
This neighbor has the last home at the end of the road, and their beautiful place (complete with multiple barns and sheds, multiple sweet dogs and many horses) backs right onto BLM land.
Again, we had met them but did not know them well, and again we watched with concern.
From where we stood we could see flames and they looked as though they were burning right behind his house.................
Clearing skies looking from our porch in the direction of Carter Mountain...............
The next road up from where we live also has a BLM entrance.
If all of the trucks had entered from that road it would have been a straighter and quicker shot to the fire.
Trucks were still approaching from our road but there were also others that were now approaching from the next road up.
One of our neighbor dogs stood on the wood pile in front of the wagon in our yard, intensely watching the action.................
My little digital camera could barely keep up with what was happening, but I continued to snap pictures that were zoomed in too far, hoping that they would turn out once I downloaded them.
From the porch we looked again towards the last home on our road.
We could see flames and from our vantage point they looked as though they were right behind his house.
Worried, LC grabbed a couple of shovels and we headed down there in the truck.
Truthfully we were not certain what we would be able to do if the man's home was really in trouble, but he had an elderly wife, multiple dogs, multiple horses and we headed down to the end of the road to see more closely exactly what was happening and if anyone needed help......................
There were a couple of other neighbors already at the house and they apparently had the same idea that we had - to just check to make certain that everyone was OK.
As soon as we pulled into the driveway we realized that the fire was not actually right behind his house after all.
In fact, it was probably 3/4 mile away or more.
That is how deceiving distances can be on BLM land....................
As everyone stood in the back yard of the neighbors house watching the fire in the rapidly fading daylight we could see vehicles everywhere.
Civilian vehicles the next road down (that contained yet one more BLM access point) had pulled over to watch the fire.
Fire fighting vehicles were at all points along the main artery on BLM and more fire trucks were beginning to spread out at various points throughout the perimeter of the fire.
The fire was definitely spreading - spreading both to the left and right on the flat terrain, and in a seemingly straight line......................
By 7:45 LC and I handed our neighbor our cell phone numbers, told him that we would keep our phones on all night and to call us anytime during the night if he needed help.
It was time to head home.
By 11pm fire fighters were still battling the blaze and I knew that they were going to have a long, hard night.
The next morning all was quiet.
The fire was out and by mid-morning LC, Jamie and I loaded into the truck and headed out onto BLM land to see just how much had burned.....................
Answer - hundreds of acres.............
As we slowly traveled rutted out dirt and mud roads, traveling across BLM land towards the location of the fire we realized that fire department vehicles were also making their way to the area of the fire.................
As far as I know there were no injuries and no property damage.
Thankfully the fire was put out last night, and the trucks we saw this morning were no doubt simply checking (as a safety precaution) that it would not and could not flare up again.
One more fire (this one unexpectedly close to home) in a summer that has been overwhelmed by fire in the western part of the country..................

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