One of the first things I noticed this year when I arrived on the range, was how very dry it was up here. I could hear the grass “crunch” under my feet as I walked. It made me afraid that this could be a very high fire danger season. As I looked at the forecast for the next 10 days, there seemed to be no rain in sight, but every afternoon, it seemed as though that might change. Yesterday it did, and it rained for 3 hours, the horses running past us, seeking shelter from the storm. Knowing by the horses reaction, I knew that this would be a severe storm, and the horses were right, with the rain came a sufficient amount of thunder and lightning.
Whenever a storm with lightning strikes occur on the mountain, I gather my guests and we climb in the truck. I feel that is the safest place to be during a storm, especially with lightning striking around us. I then pull away from any near by trees. And that is where we sat for 3 hours yesterday, waiting out the storm and being thankful for the much-needed rain to the range. As I type this , the rain is again pouring down. So thankful for this moisture. Today is different, however, the horses are still visible, so I will take that as a sign that this storm will not be as bad as yesterday’s.
At about hour 2 1/2 of this storm, the sky seemed to be clearing, and I started to work my way back up the very muddy road to our campsite. It was then that we all witnessed a lightning strike hit a tree up near the Skyline Meadow, also known as Bigfoot’s Meadow. This area was about 1/2 mile from us. The lightning strike caused the tree to turn instantly bright red and as fast as the red dimmed, the smoke began.
My guests ( Barb and Dick) my assistant (Abbie) and myself decided we should let as many people know about this fire so we could as to get a quick response from someone..anyone. I immediately got on my phone and was relieved that I had enough service to make a call. The first call was to Jeff, the BLM law enforcement agent. After leaving a voice mail, I then dialed 911. And at the last-minute, I thought I should let Jim Sparks know, and left a voicemail for him as well. It was a bit unnerving to think what could occur if the fire was big enough and the wind strong enough. I tried to push that from my mind and focus on where we had seen this strike.
The rain was still coming down hard, and that in itself was comforting, knowing that it was hopefully putting the fire out. But by now we could not see the area of the strike, the fog had settled in, it was difficult to tell if it was smoke or fog. We all continued to watch the area of the strike as we waited for a response from our calls.
It was not long, probably just a few minutes ( but it seemed much longer) that I heard from Jeff. I spoke briefly with him, and he confirmed that the 911 dispatcher had already reached him. He indicated that they would send up a helicopter to try to spot the location, but they needed to wait for the fog to lift.
Once the fog lifted, much to our relief, we could not see any smoke. I called Jeff and let him know. (I was not looking forward to a helicopter, knowing how the horses would react, but we all agreed, a helicopter would be better than a range engulfed in flames). He said a ground crew of firefighters would be up to check on the fire. For those of you that have not been on the range, that would mean that it would take about 3 hours or more with a fire truck, to get to the top.
Once the firefighters reached the top, I directed then to the area of the strike. They were able to hike to the area and locate the tree. The lightening had traveled all the way down the tree and into the ground where there was a small area of smoldering matter. The firefighters worked on the area last night, then sat up camp so they could continue to work on it in the morning. This morning they were up working on the area for several hours. They informed us that a small smothering area can turn into a big fire in no time if the conditions are right, and told me that it was good that we had called it in. Abbie and I had just hiked that area a few days ago, so I know how thick and dense that area is with dead and downed trees. A fire that started here, would be eagerly fed with the food of this forest. We were grateful for their quick response.
I am writing this post so that others that travel up on the range can know that you can call 911 when on the range. After talking to my guests, I realized that many people to not think that there is reception on the range, but you can locate it in some areas. If you do call 911 you should know a few things. When on the top of the mountain, you are in Carbon County, also try to pin point the direction and area that you see a strike and smoke. So please call to report a fire. The horses depend on your fast response.
My guests and I would like to thank the BLM for their fast response and hard work. Thank you Jeff, LeRoy and the rest of the firefighting crew for your efforts. We very much appreciate it!
When we woke this morning, we were greeted by a glorious sunny sky and a very green range with lots of muddy puddles for silly horseplay!