September 20, 2017


I know we have all been concerned with the fires that roared across Montana and other western states.
I had the opportunity to witness some of the devastation first-hand on Friday. While driving in the rain.
On Friday morning, in a nice rain, I drove down to Bowman and met a friend to go to a horse sale in Great Falls. It was raining nice at home. And from here to Bowman and then northwest to Great Falls, we never shut the wipers off! 525 miles with the wipers on in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. That may happen only once in a lifetime. When I was young, it would have been a nail-straightening day.
We drove to Miles City and then north to Jordan. In a wonderful rain, we drove by the 300,000 acres that had burned west of Jordan. You see still pictures of it. You probably saw pictures posted on social media. They do not do justice to the actual burned acreage. Mile after mile after mile, with nothing but burnt pasture land. No cattle. No wildlife. No birds. Just blackened ground and ash. That fire was a while ago, but there was not a hint of green. It brought tears to my eyes. But this rain was bringing more than moisture. It was bringing hope.
At Great Falls, we went to supper with a young couple that was hosting the sale. Their ranch had been in the middle of a devastating fire in the Bear Paw Mountains. I had seen pictures posted. But to hear their stories was riveting.
The men had been up in the mountains on the fire line. For three days. Without coming home. The wind switched and the fire started advancing on one of the prettiest ranches in the world. The young housewife was there alone. With no cell phone service to call for help. She went on Facebook and asked for assistance. She asked people to share her plea. In a matter of hours she had 200 people in her yard. Many with pickups and trailers to evacuate horses and livestock penned at the yard. For three days, they fed 200 people 3 meals a day in their ranch yard. That’s cowboy.
The father told of watching a dozer go over a steep incline and down into a canyon. Three men. And as he watched, the canyon exploded into fire and the men were surrounded. He was forced from his vantage point and knew deep down inside that those three men were doomed. He went back to camp and didn’t inform the wives that he was certain those men had perished in the inferno. Someone else who had witnessed the canyon explosion was not so delicate. He came in and said he was certain they were gone. Devastating.
Hours later they learned what happened. The men were trapped. Encircled by a raging fire. The dozer operator made a few circles around the firefighters, and they huddled in the middle of their small clearing. A pilot in a spotter plane could see their plight. As the fire advanced toward them, he radioed for a helicopter. The helicopter, minutes before the fire reached the doomed men, arrived with a load of water and dropped it directly on the firefighters. They escaped.
One rancher told of hauling five horses out and dollying down the trailer and going back for another two-horse trailer and two more horses. The pickup was loaded with what things they could throw in the trailer in a moment’s notice as the fire advanced on their home.
The last thing he loaded was two blue heeler dogs. He threw them in underneath the horses. Blue heelers are tough. He got them out of harm’s way and dollied that trailer down and headed back to fight fire.
A day and a half later, he got back to that trailer and opened the end gate to unload the horses and dogs. He said those dogs were directly under those horse’s bellies and wouldn’t wiggle. They had been stomped on enough, they knew better than to even flinch. Those horses had done something I’ve never been able to do. Make a blue heeler mind.
After hearing their stories, I won’t complain about a little drought.