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Spring Fire Season?

View of the Sheep Draw Fire from our house. Day 2.

On the afternoon of March 28, we got a call saying there may be a fire over in the short pines.  So Riley made some phone calls and couldn’t seem to reach anyone who knew anything about it.  Had it been September, rumor of even a hint of smoke would have sent everyone flying in the direction they thought it may be coming from.  But this was March… usually our main concern is when to expect the next spring blizzard.  Anyway, Riley went over to investigate and a few hours later emergency calls were being sent out asking anyone and everyone who was able to come fight fire in the short pines, just south of Terry and Laurie’s place.

With 70 mph winds blowing all through the night, volunteer firefighters somehow managed to keep the fire from crossing the Harding Road.  Riley said they didn’t know how they stopped it but the good news was they did, otherwise no one knows for sure what the fire could have escalated to.  Eventually the fire was upgraded to a Level 2 emergency and crews and heavy equipment were sent in to help, including two National Guard helicopters that scooped water out of nearby dams to dump on the fire, a slurry plane, and many hand crews.  The job of the hand crews was to hike up into the hills where equipment couldn’t drive and manually dig fire lines.

By the end of Day 2, the fire had burned 8000 acres and was only 20% contained.  Riley, and I’m sure most of the other volunteers, hadn’t been home since it started and there really was no way of getting in touch with them other than driving out to find them, as there was no cell phone service where the fire was.

Even though the wind had been blowing strong out of the north-northwest throughout most of the duration of the fire, it still managed to creep north due to a lot of old grass up in the hills and short pines that hadn’t been grazed in years.  By day 3 it was scarily close to Terry and Laurie’s place and still drifting north.  Friends and family came rushing in to help move cattle north and build fire lines.  You wouldn’t have thought there was any way the cattle could have known that a fire was coming there way, but they were waiting at the gate to be moved and when the gate was opened they ran north.  Once they got to where they were going and got settled in, they laid down and slept… like they had been stressed and now they knew they were safe.  Just another sign that animals probably know a lot more than we give them credit for.

The Sheep Draw Fire ended up burning to within 200 feet of the Goehring-Routier Ranch.  (So they say- to me the burned area looks a lot closer than 200 feet away!) At 6:00 pm on April 3, 6 days after it started, they announced that it was 100% contained and in mop up, patrol and rehab status.  Which was great news since a new fire erupted on April 1 over in the Slim Buttes just east of Buffalo.  The Moonshine Fire was also fought for several days by volunteers as well as state units who put in great efforts to keep damage to a minimum, but it still burned thousands of acres.  Thankfully, between the two fires, the only structure loss was a shed next to a gas well in the Sheep Draw Fire, and no one was injured.

On the positive side, we got a little moisture this week and things are starting to look green so that should reduce the risk of more fires for awhile.  It was an exciting end of March/beginning of April, but not the kind of excitement that you really look forward to!

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