|Wildfire in Lame Deer, Montana |
Photo by Brad Sylvester. Copyright 2011.
The approach from the east is uphill for a long way. It is around this area where the climb into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains begins. We took Route 212 which passes through cattle land, scrub and forests that are much more predominantly pine and other evergreen than anything I'm used to in New England. The landscape was interesting all by itself.
The sky grew overcast and grey as we drove. We hadn't seen a weather report, so we didn't think anything of it.
|Flames crest the ridge.|
Photo by Brad Sylvester, copyright 2011.
It was clear that somewhere in the area was a very large forest fire. We had seen no other evidence of it on our way thus far, so it must be ahead of us. The question was, was it off to the side or would it be close to the road and present a danger to us.
The area where we had stopped was well-forested on either side. If flames were to sweep through the pine here, it would be quite unpleasant and potentially quite dangerous for us. The car seemed fine so we decided to push ahead and try to put the fire behind us if we could.
|Flames racing downhill at Lame Deer, Montana|
As we approached Lame Deer, we could see thick dark smoke rising from over a hill to our right. It was still ahead of us so we kept driving, until it was directly beside us. The hill from which it came was about a half mile to our right and we pulled off the side of the road to snap a few pictures.
Within a minute, we saw not only smoke pouring over the hill, but flames as well. The flames climbed each pine tree and lept from tree to tree. It seemed almost to flow down the hill toward us with a light north wind at its back. Between us and the hill was flat farmland, dry grass and scrub that would burn quickly.
|As the flames drew closer, we drove away to safety.|
As the flames ran closer to the flat of the valley, we drove out to be out of harm's way. We watched the smoke roll across Route 212 behind us, although I don't know how much of the flame, if any, made it across the open scrub land.
The volume of smoke we had seen earlier might very well have come from another larger fire elsewhere in the mountains of Montana. There were several fires reported across the area that day. We did see the smoke from another of those wildfires in the distance not long after we passed through Lame Deer.
|Smoke from a distant fire|
|Pines trees killed by a wildfire in Montana|
When you fly across the country, you'll never encounter events like this on the way. I really think driving across the country helps add a greater depth to one's understanding of the different regions of the country. On the outskirts of Lame Deer, for instance, many of the homes were very modest and seemed as if the owners lacked the funds to undertake basic maintenance and repairs. Almost every home, though, had one or more horses in the yard. I think, perhaps, this hints at how the Cheyenne community here values its cultural heritage.
One day, I'd like to spend more time exploring this region of Montana, getting to know the land, the history and the people who live here. So much to see, so little time...