Rice Ridge Fire of 2017

Standard

 

fire5

Turning onto our long gravel driveway looking towards the Horseshoe Hills last week

We had a cold, wet May which meant the grass grew tall.

Then we had a hot, dry June which meant we were in for it this summer.

Lightning struck several dry places in the western part of the state on July 24th and ever since then the Rice Ridge fire has burned and taken on a life form of its own outside our community of Seeley Lake.

 

fire1

View from the golf course three weeks ago when things got intense.

Initially it wasn’t a big concern and for the two weeks I was chilling out in a cool Canadian ice rink nobody had much to say about this fire. The night we drove west, though, back from North Dakota, and we saw the plume rising and growing from behind our Horseshoe Hills mountain range, everything changed.

The photo above was taken the first day we were back and whacking at balls on the local golf course.

The front nine provides an excellent view of the entire fire and the mountains it has marched across immediately behind our town. It also gave us an alarming perspective as to how quickly things changed during a simple round of golf.

 

fire2

The next day. When people were evacuating and things got real.

It became clear that the fire was out of control and much of our town was put on pre-evacuation. Several friends who live by the airport (at the far right of the angry smoke seen above) just left. They packed up their kids, pets, important papers, and photo albums and they got out of town.

The golf course closed for a day due to the pre-evacuations as well as the hazardous air quality which was worsened by the fact we had another large, pre-evacuation-causing fire burning almost as quickly to the west of town.

Alistair and I have keys to the cart barn, where we keep Norman, so we still went out to play. We saw a couple of other club members as well and we all watched the sky darken and the smoke plumes change during another simple round of golf.

 

P1070320

Yayyyy!

Traffic was a steady stream as people drove south down highway 83 past the golf course that afternoon and while our farm wasn’t immediately threatened we both felt a sadness at the lack of control one has during this type of situation.

And finally, as we stood on the long fairway of the ninth hole, the air support that was so badly needed and likely saved much of our community and our airport arrived over our heads.

Planes to spot, drop water and drop retardant buzzed overhead. Single and twin rotor helicopters whacka-whacka-ed in the skies. The Canadian super-scoopers who dove into Seeley Lake one behind the other in a choreographed routine that was witnessed by hundreds stayed for a few days and flew for hours on end to pour water on this angry beast. And a famous orange converted DC10 flew out of Helena with bright red fire retardant to dump where it could.

 

fire3

Big Orange above the golf course.

Big Orange flies over our farm when he’s called to action so I have been able to watch him from our front yard as well as from the front nine. He lumbers along and takes well over an hour when he has to fly back to refuel and refill but its a thing of beauty to watch.

He flies behind a little guy who puffs out what looks like smoke where Big Orange is supposed to dump. The two planes fly up and down the hillside and into canyons and gullies and the red powder falls when and where its supposed to, all in an effort to block the spread of the monstrous fire.

 

fire10

view from the driving range last week

Despite the hundreds of people who came to work this fire and the amazing work of air support the Rice Ridge fire of 2017 continued to spread. The driving range has become a viewpoint for many in town and it gives a great perspective of how much land has been consumed.

The fire today has burned over 15,000 acres, which is nothing compared to other fires within the state this year or over the course of history but those acres have pretty much been immediately around our town.

The mountaintop on the very right in the above photo has the Morrell Outlook station on top, which is the same mountain and outlook seen from our back yard, on the other side.

 

fire11

Morrell Outlook on the left peak with smoke billowing around from the Seeley Lake side on the left and coming over the top a couple of days ago.

And while its comforting to know that’s a few miles away, and its comforting to see the bright red flame retardant covering the ground up there, all along the ridge top, its still kind of eerie knowing you have a big assed fire that close to home.

Its also somewhat comforting knowing that they are using our meadow to stage helicopter pickups for both water and retardant but even that is a little freaky, too.

Freaky but super cool at the same time, if that’s possible.

 

fire6

The first time the big Chinook buzzed in for water last week!

My neighbors and I have had front row seats to a free air show and I am amazed at how much of an organized production its been.

 

fire7

Right. Over. My. Head.

The Chinook and the single rotor Sykorski fly both water and retardant to the fire. Last Wednesday I got to watch them fly back and forth all morning as they came and went every 10 minutes or so.

 

IMG_0792

View from our front yard 4 days ago.

I waved every single time I watched them (which was several) because I want the pilots to know I appreciate them. Even if they can’t see me I want to be doing any little thing I can to make someone who is working so hard to save a town they don’t live in smile.

 

IMG_0780

And another run.

The fire has been only 10% contained since crews really began to attack it. The terrain is, in places, inaccessible and thanks to the high winds we had the past 2 days even back-burning has been impossible (the old, ‘fight fire with fire’ saying has its origins in truth.)

We have a road behind us in the Clearwater Lakes drainage that connects to Seeley Lake around by the airport. We snowmobile that road in the winter and pause by the lakes and another road that branches off and up to the Morrell Outlook for photos.

 

P1060920

Me, on that road by frozen Clearwater Lakes this spring.

That road has apparently been widened drastically by work crews and is a focal point for stopping this beast of a fire. Many fire workers and much equipment is up there right now digging tremendous trenches and removing dead, fallen trees that cover the ground and would act as fuel to push the fire towards our meadow.

I know that because they were all suddenly in our meadow on Friday evening as my friend who just arrived from Canada for the night and I were driving into town for supper and suddenly tankers, trucks, machinery, huge rigs and several dozen men in yellow shirts and green pants were all over the place.

They were there because winds had blown the fire up and they had no idea where it was coming from or going and they figured they only had one chance to get out of the drainage if it was going towards them.

 

IMG_0795

Friday afternoon… as the fire blew up behind us

It had looked frightening from town that morning on the golf course and even worse when I got home that afternoon.

Granted, it was mostly moving East, which is the goal because the Bob Marshall Wilderness is that way and that’s the only thing that way.

No towns.

No people.

 

IMG_0805

Friday afternoon behind our ranch.

When I took the dogs up the driveway for a better view I wasn’t surprised that a few friends had messaged me asking if I needed help getting out or a place for the pets and I to get to.

I knew my friend was visiting and could help evacuate and that most everything that is important is lined up in our foyer in boxes in case I have to make a move.

And The Dragon is hooked up to the Road Warrior and there are irreplaceable items already inside and the cat crates are by the door in the garage and sealed bags of dog and cat food are also loaded inside the rig along with leashes, dishes, my skates and a pink bag of our important documents.

 

IMG_0789

Ready to go if needed!

I doubt it will come to that even though I watched from our kitchen sunroom last night as the outlook became engulfed in smoke and wasn’t visible from this side well until darkness.

It was, as it turned out, a controlled back-burn that would have been nice to know about but folks on the town side of the mountain shared pictures of our beloved outlook still there.

 

P1070373

Somewhat alarming view of the Morrell Outlook from our back deck last night surrounded by flames and smoke.

The flames glowed bright as the dogs and I snuggled up under the covers and the outlook is there this morning.

I’m not at all complacent about things. I am more than ready. Its easier this year with 2 portable dogs who travel well and 3 cats I can generally lay my hands on at any time. Sure, Jockey is outside but he sticks close to the house or me if I’m outside and he usually comes when he’s called. He’s also locked in the barn every evening so if we had to move quickly I would be able to make sure he would be with me.

Of course Alistair is in North Dakota right now but he can get here if he has to. Sure, it takes a full day but one of his partners is willing to cover for him if needed.

 

fire9

A couple of days ago in the meadow.

I doubt its going to get to that because the winds aren’t predicted to be as bad as the last few days and because the experts have been working hard to make sure this fire moves itself into the Wilderness complex.

People in town are still on pre-evacuation notice and air quality still sucks but we’re all trying to stay positive. The lake itself has re-opened for recreation so that’s a bonus.

I try to focus on things I can control even though I know nobody is out of the woods. And even though I can’t forget the fact a young firefighter lost his life on this particular fire early on I know these crews know exactly what they are getting into when they sign up for this job. And I appreciate and respect that knowledge and the risks these men and women take while they work hard to save our community.

 

fire4

Local golf course resident.

And I’ll take pictures of the little things that make me smile and give me pleasant pause like the young fawn resting in the cool grass along the creek on the 12th hole at the golf course.

Know that we’re all staying strong, we’ve got each others backs up here and everyone is communicating as much as they can. UB, Cleo, Sport, Bebe, Jockey and I, my passport, our diplomas, marriage license and naturalization certificates will be fine. Our photo albums are boxed.

Everything else is just stuff.

 

P1070370

Last week on the 9th tee box. 

IMG_0788

Mr. Jockey helping me wave at and take pictures of the helicopters!

 

P1070348

Coming in to land in our meadow!

 

IMG_0798

Friday’s view of Mother Nature’s strength. Rice Ridge fire, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Latest Addiction

Standard

I’ve been bitten by the golf bug.

Hard.

002

Its nothing like a simple mosquito bite, either. One of those irritating, inflamed bumps that annoy you for a few days and then disappears until your next one.

No, this bug bite is entirely different.

Its addicting.

Its all-consuming.

I’ve even had dreams about it and I’ve only been playing since the very end of September last year.

I blame Tom, Mike, Lynn, Miki, and the beautiful local golf course. These 4 individuals encouraged us to put together a team for a fun fund-raiser for the local pond hockey tournament.

Alistair and I didn’t play golf.

Well….

025

There was this one time, back in 1995.

“It will be fun,” they said. “Its just to raise money,” they added. “It’ll be a great send-off for the vet girls,” I heard. “We’ll wear our Dog Days shirts,” was suggested.

So, the Diamonds in the Ruff team was formed and golf (or, something like it) was played.

239

Alistair broke 2 golf clubs, I did a cartwheel at the “Happy Gilmore” hole and some bevvies were consumed. Lynn and I did so poorly on one hole that we gave up and just drove. The carts, that is.

We won an award for the “most honest” team.

The sad truth is that I fudged a couple of numbers and we still got last.

226

The strangest thing happened, though- we had a blast.

I blame Alistair, Lynn, Miki and Tim for reinforcing our newfound passion last fall.  I, like any addict, sought out their encouragement, knowing they would continue to enable me. Often by joining me.

053

Without the clinic keeping me busy I would head out on the nearly empty, picturesque, tree-lined course and bang balls around.

Some even went into their holes in less than 10 shots.

Then 9. Then 8.

When people used to ask us if we played golf I would jokingly say that I was going to take it up when I was too old to do anything else.

I secretly rolled my eyes, wondering how anyone could play the game, let alone watch it on TV. (This from a woman who watches curling but I’m Canadian and nobody questions that up there).

322

We started making par occasionally but then the snow came down and we actually got booted off the course in November… apparently they had anti-fungal treatments on the ground. Who knew?

So we did the unthinkable and watched golf on TV.

We bought videos.

We practiced putting with a golf game my sister-in-law found for us. Christmas was a great haul at the Fyfe house.

311

I confess that I might have taken this up earlier had I known there was so much shopping involved!

Cute shoes, pink balls, socks with rhinestones, golf clubs with lots of purple, fancy skorts, matching shirts, a spiffy towel, funky gloves…. and a golf cart.

A blinged-out masterpiece with fenders and headlights.

011

His name is Norman.

The golf pro tells us, “you 3 have fun out there.”

It makes sense that a couple of Fyfes are playing golf. Alistair’s own parents were raised in Scotland, even going to St.Andrew’s. Not that either of them played and we just never bothered.

A lot of hockey players golf but I’m not sure if many figure skaters do. Yet, there are some similarities.

You are often alone inside your head when practicing golf and skating. This leads to discussions with oneself.

On the ice it was ‘I didn’t trace that bracket very well’; ‘Liz has the cutest outfit today’; ‘Point the toe, point the toe, point the toe’; ‘I wonder what’s for supper’; ‘How many calories did I eat at lunch; and, ‘Left arm checked going into the double lutz.’

033

With golf you can run an entire conversation with yourself much the same way.

‘Thumbs aligned’; ‘I totally love this skort!’; ‘Rotate shoulders and ribcage together’; ‘I wonder if Alistair wants to eat at Lindey’s tonight’ and ‘Eye on the ball, Tanya. Eye on the ball.’

003

Both sports can get terribly expensive.

Both sports require patience.

You can’t do either sport well wearing a lot of bulky clothing.

I enjoy the similarities and the work ethic involved with both sports. I love that I can improve every single day for every year for the rest of my life. I love being outside in the fresh air with Alistair as we both strive for continual improvement.

I love Norman, Loudmouth skorts, my wine glass covered glove, Michelle Wie, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson’s unorthodox style, Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson (who looks more like Juaquin Phoenix than Juaquin Phoenix) and the fact I can share this game with friends and family when they come to visit.

I love that our trips to Hawaii have a whole new dimension now with the enjoyment of the outstanding, ocean-view golf courses that are usually located at our resorts.

023

I have even started taking lessons.

I don’t include the group lesson I took on Kauai, where I basically had a shit-eating grin on my face the whole time. I was just so thrilled to have some guidance and drive a cart around a lush, fancy-shmancy, tropical island golf course.

My first real lesson was yesterday.

I’ll admit it. I kind of suck right now.

003

And yet I still love it! Amazing.

I went and drove balls this afternoon but there were no tee times available with the long weekend. It was wonderful to see so many other people enjoying the course.

Alistair has 4 large round hay bales stacked in Bismarck. He drives golf balls right into them or he works on pitching them overtop. You have to admire his tenacity.

004

I love that golf is a game for one person or a bunch of people. Skating isn’t like that unless you’re into synchro. In fact, we used to get in trouble if we were standing around talking at the boards.

I also love that golf is a warm-weather game. I spent more than 25 years in a refrigeration system. It got cold.

Don’t get me wrong- I love skating. And skiing. And snow-shoeing. And snowmobiling.

Its just that, given the choice, I’d rather be warm.

008

An extra bonus is the fact that I get to wear all of the polo shirts I bought for my clinic over the years as well as the fancy slacks I used to wear at the larger clinic I worked at in Bismarck. Who knew my sense of style leaned towards “golf” back then?

002

I’d like to see more women on the golf course. I know its easier for me to enjoy the game with my partner because we are both at a similar level. We’re also both competitive and athletically driven, which makes us well-matched.

We also can laugh at ourselves and crack jokes as we’re out there.

003

And Spirit of UB will make a comment or Spirit of Cleo almost always has something to say in her southern drawl, like, “Nice shot, Daddy.”

Its how we roll.

With fenders.

In Norman.

233

So if you’re driving along the highway & you see us whacking at balls or digging in the tall grasses to find one, go ahead and honk.

Better yet, get out and enjoy the game.

You’re never too old to start something new. Hell, you might even become addicted. As long as you have friends eager to enable you, you’ll do just fine.

240

We’ve come a long way, Baby!