As many of you know from local and national news media, we just survived the horror of the “19 Mile” forest fire outside of Whitehall, MT. As of this writing (Sept. 4) Sage Mountain Center is about 95% in the clear. Fire fighters are still battling the last remaining portion of this 4,100 acre fire and we are still sleeping with one eye open. It sounds like the fire should be wrapped up in a couple of days. It was started by lighting which struck a tree and then traveled along a wire fence that was nailed to the tree. It scorched a number of other trees before igniting a Rocky Mountain Juniper.
A week ago with high winds and very hot temps the fire traveled quickly north towards Sage Mountain Center (the wind rarely blows towards the north). After 3 miles the winds shifted towards their normal westerly flow…away from SMC. But not after a number of homes were destroyed in the initial pass. Because of the lay of our land and surrounding territory we were required to evacuate. As the fire traveled west it consumed 14 of our neighbor’s homes.
When the fire first started Linda called me to say that we were under mandatory evacuation and frantically asked what she should take. As I mentally shifted gears (I was 500 miles away in Idaho) I thought: computer, files and important documents, some clothes…..and as I was asking questions about the situation the phone line went dead. I could tell this was serious and immediately threw everything in the car and drove back to Butte, arriving at 2 am. Our cell service is spotty at SMC so communication was basically dead. Update: one hour ago we got our phone land line back on because a phone box had melted a week ago.
A number of homeowners in the area refused to leave their homes. The law allows them to stay but once they go out through the evacuation check points the sheriffs will not let them back in. Warren and a couple of other neighbors insisted on staying to watch over their places. If the fire was barreling down on the house Warren had his Jeep packed and ready to go. A few other neighbors did the same thing and rode it out as the flames wiped away everything except the house they were protecting with hoses! Stupid or smart, we make no judgment.
On day 3 we got a report that there were multiple sites still on fire on our boarder and knowing that man-power to fight the fire was still developing, a couple neighbors and I decided to sneak past the evacuation check points, borrow a neighbor’s four-wheeler ATV and ride back in to our homes. We quickly changed our clothes, grabbed shovels and supplies and raced off to tackle that portion of the fire. An hour into it a water helicopter arrived and we were directing the water drops at that site. It was all so surreal and “navy seal” since we weren’t supposed to be there but we were making a huge difference fighting for our homes. The patrols in the area ignored us since they knew it was more important to fight the fire than to take the time to confirm our presence there.
We’ve heard many survival stories during the last days and our hearts go out to those who’ve lost all their material possessions. The pictures below share a little of what has happened over the last week. With the planet warming and the climate changing we are so aware that unfortunately this same scenario is being repeated all over the world. Our hope is that we will all be able to learn from and adapt to our changing environment, so that future generations of all species will survive. We also want to thank those of you who’ve had us in your minds and hearts during this week from hell.