Wrapped ...

August 28, 2015

So it's now Friday afternoon, and I haven’t seen another human being since my friend Scott headed down the mountain early Monday morning. And I’m surprisingly OK with that.

Anyhow, things up here at Baptiste Lookout are starting to get more eerie and uncertain again. There’s a weather front moving in, so the temperatures are cooling and the winds are picking up, with gusts coming from all directions. Sometimes the sky is almost clear, and other times the smoke is so thick that I can’t see things a mile away. Right now it’s mostly the latter, and I can sometimes pick up a campfire smell and notice little flecks of ash in the air.

The conditions are perfect for the forest fires up here to make a run, and people are getting pretty concerned about that. The little town of Essex was evacuated yesterday, and two of the three lookouts closest to me have also been evacuated. Both those lookouts have been “wrapped” with a fire-resistant material, in hopes that the buildings could be saved if the fires progress that far. (The wrapping works most of the time, but not always — a wrapped lookout building in Idaho was lost in a big fire a couple weeks ago.)

Here’s a photo my friend Bill took of Scalplock Lookout as the wrapping crew was finishing up. Scalplock is Bill’s normal post, but since it might not be used again this year he’s been moved to Cyclone Lookout, over by Polebridge.

And here’s how Spotted Bear Lookout looks after being wrapped. The lookout actually stayed there a couple of days after the wrapping was completed, but she was finally helicoptered off yesterday afternoon.

I’m still listening to the two-way radio constantly, still transfixed by the unfolding fire stories. Much of the Bob Marshall Wilderness is completely shut down now, with major fires going in several locations. There are small crews on the ground in a number of locations, trying to protect backcountry guard stations and monitor the fires … but there’s only so much they can do, and since they’re on foot they need to be very cautious. There’s too much smoke for aircraft to even enter the area to see what’s going on.

The lifeline for all of these people is Amy, the woman staffing Jumbo Lookout this summer. She’s been on the radio constantly, relaying messages from the ranger station to the various fire crews, and helping choreograph personnel movements, trail closures, and backpacker evacuations. I’m sure she put in a 16-hour day yesterday, and her presence and knowledge were crucial to holding everything together during the crisis.