Bittersweet in Montana


Fire, Fire Burning Bright

What is to give light must endure the burning.

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Source: I wish I knew.  Why are the deer in the water?  I think they' must be intelligent enough to understand that that's where they're safest in a fire...

I finally found this (as a matter of fact, a google for Montana fire will turn up hundreds of copies - most called "Bambi in the Water"):

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Photo of a Forest Fire in Bitterroot Forest - Montana

The year 2000 brought one of the worst fire seasons in half a century to the US.  By the month of August over 4 million acres (an area greater in size than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined) had been burned by wildfires and dozens of blazes raged out of control in 11 western states, with nearly half of the conflagrations occurring in Idaho and Montana.  On 6 August 2000, as several fires converged in the Bitterroot National Forest near the town of Sula in western Montana, John McColgan, a fire behavior analyst in the employ of the USDA Forest Service, snapped the spectacular photograph shown above with a digital camera.  As McColgan described the experience to a writer for the Western Montana newspaper The Missoulian: "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  I've been doing this for 20 years and it ranks in the top 3 days of fire behaviour I've seen."

The day was the Sunday when several forest fires converged near Sula into a firestorm that overran 100,000 acres and destroyed 10 homes.  Temperatures in the flame front were estimated at more than 800ºF.  Nevertheless, McColgan said, the wildlife appeared to be taking the crisis in stride, gathering near the East Fork of the Bitterroot River where it crosses under US Highway 93.  "They know where to go, where their safe zones are," McColgan said.  "A lot of wildlife did get driven down there to the river.  There were some bighorn sheep there.  A small deer was standing right underneath me, under the bridge."  McColgan snapped the photo with a Kodak DC280 digital camera.  Since he was working as a Forest Service firefighter, the shot is public property and cannot be sold or used for commercial purposes.

After McColgan downloaded his amazing image to an office computer, a friend found it, emailed a copy to another friend, and by mid-September 2000 the picture was blazing its way across the Internet.  Because many forwarded copies of the image lacked any attribution or explanation, email recipients began to circulate rumours about its origins and authenticity — some claimed that the photo was snapped by a tourist, that it was taken during the extensive Yellowstone National Park fires of 1988, or that it was yet another digital fake.  (When a series of forest fires hit British Columbia in August 2003, this picture was sent around again with notes indicating that it was a photograph taken at one of those conflagrations.)

As John McColgan said afterwards, "I couldn't have profited from [the photograph], so I guess I'm glad so many people are enjoying it."

Montana Fires Force Frantic Evacuations


by Chris McGonigle

Lincoln, Montana - When deadly wildfires recently threatened this remote Montana town, Geronimo Ninahuanca Tocas quickly grabbed a few personal possessions: personal papers, passport and his beloved cowboy boots.

Montana, whose rugged mountains and vast rolling plains have earned it the title "last best place," may be calling itself the "last burned place" when summer 2003 is over.  Statewide, 36 wildfires have devoured big bites of parched pine forest and tinder - dry grasslands, destroying more than 400,000 acres so far - only a small percentage of its total size, but equivalent to half the state of Rhode Island.

Like hundreds of people displaced by raging forest fires, Ninahuanca, a Peruvian sheep herder, had to decide quickly on his most valuable possessions and then escape.

Gayla Mertes was sound asleep when sheriff's deputies pounded on her door at 1:35am last Wednesday morning and told her to evacuate.  "I jumped about three feet," she said, "but I knew immediately what it was when I saw the red-and-blue police flashers in the window."  She and her husband, Calvin, had packed his business papers in a metal strong box a few days earlier, so they were somewhat prepared.  They had also pulled a trailer out two days before with their three snowmobiles, two four-wheelers, and a riding lawn mower - "all the toys that weren't insured," she said.  Still, she regrets that she forgot her deceased mother-in-law's Afghan rugs.  "There just wasn't time to think of everything," she said.

Two fires on either end of Lincoln, a popular winter skiing and snowmobiling town 60 miles northwest of Helena, have been raging for several days.  Officials have evacuated 120 homes around the town.

Carolyn Underwood, whose home is within a mile of a fire in the Swan Valley, 130 miles northwest of Lincoln, said she flew into a panic when she saw smoke on the horizon.  "My rule is living things first," she said.  "We were going to let our two horses stand in the pond, but then we got nervous about it.  My husband Jerry and I got the horses and our two dogs out in the horse trailer."  A few inanimate objects made the cut as well, including photos and her mother's Wedgwood china.

Rusty Verhoeven, who wears a straw cowboy heat, gathered guns, jewelry, photos, saddles, five chickens, a goose, and their poodle, Toto, when he had to leave his two-story log home.

Summer is fire season in the American West, and in Montana, widespread, mostly lightning-sparked wildfires have threatened land, homes, power lines, and livestock.  Both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks were forced to close sections of the parks due to fires, and thousands of firefighters have battled the flames.

"To think I moved here for my health," laughed Jeff Sanders, 46, who has a house in Elk Meadows, north of Lincoln.  Or had a house.  "I don't know if it's there anymore," he said.  Clumps of ash were falling on Sanders' head when he grabbed his orange tabby cat, Sam, and fled.  Like dozens of others evacuated because of the fires, he's living temporarily at a shelter set up by the Red Cross.

Source: Reuters 25 August 2003

Leaving on a More Peaceful Note...


For photos of the earth and moon, stained glass, sunsets on Wellington Harbour, Lady Fair, Civic Square, the old mill, the Whippany River, historical houses, Lake Parsippany and more clicking the "Up" button below takes you to the Index page for this Photographs section.

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