Missoula From the time we turned towards the Bitterroot Mountains and the northwestern area of Montana at Butte, we could hardly make out the mountains on either horizon for the haze being created by the fires ahead. Forty-five miles south of Missoula in Drummond, Montana we got out to see if we could see anything ahead. The smoke was not acrid. The firefighters had been active for days, but the haze was everywhere around us.
Later in the evening we prepared to drive down our familiar route along Rock Creek Road twenty-five or so miles south of Missoula. The road was closed to campers and fishers. Half was blocked off and troopers were exchanging shifts near the Fisherman’s Mercantile to prevent vehicles from proceeding any farther. We talked to the first trooper when we checked on our trailer in the early afternoon. He felt there had been progress in containment farther down in the Lolo National Forest, but there was still something happening five or six miles in from the I-90, though he didn’t know for sure. That evening the feeling was positive, but the road was completely closed at Philipsburg on the other end of the Rock Creek Road.
We were going to see the changes made over the summer at our friends’ property before we moved the Silver Bullet to Wyoming after a seven-year residence on the creek. We waited while he knelt on his knee for ten minutes to explain to some young Canadians where they might find a location to camp farther down the highway, and chatted with some other hangers on. Finally, he cleared us to drive down to the 22-mile bridge and see what was up.
Fires in the West are common in the dry, heat of late July and early August. We’ve seen our fill of them. We’ve watched helicopters scoop water from the creek in a huge bucket, fly over, and dump than just as we saw employed by firefighters after Katrina in New Orleans. Still this one was different at 8000 acres. Lightning was said to be the cause. We felt like we were driving into it as we neared the smoke plumes rising ahead. Even in the late dusk there were hot shots and fire fighters on both sides of the road still digging out breaks where the trees met the grass in locations that normally we would have looked for Bighorn sheep coming down to feed at this time of the evening. Signs were posted in front of some houses thanking the fire fighters. One home had a cooler outside and a sign calling them to snacks if they stopped anywhere near.
The Weather Channel reported on a tropical storm in Florida and cooler temperatures across the deep south from New Orleans to Atlanta. At the same time the forecaster listed cities in Oregon and throughout the West that were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and approaching historic records that might be broken later in the day.
Maybe this isn’t climate change. Maybe it’s just the usual, “wait a minute, and the weather changes,” but if this is the new normal, our on the ground report would be that there’s no one on the ground celebrating the change.
Please enjoy Ringo Starr’s We’re on the Road Again.
Thanks to KABF.