2015 Baptiste Lookout Duty–Journal 5

By | August 11, 2015

Radio traffic woke me up this morning earlier than usual because smoke jumpers on the Jumbo Fire worked into the night and started again early this morning. They reported finding a fire ring where they think the fire started meaning that the fire was probably human-caused. An investigation will follow.

I heard that there were meteor showers last night, but I was too tired to watch for very long. With a Fire Weather Watch in affect today, I am assuming that I will be very busy and need to be as alert as possible. The next four days are forecast to be scorchers and the temperature inside the Lookout is already over 60 degrees before the sun has come up over Baptiste Peak.

Huckleberries in oatmeal for breakfast

There was so much going on last evening that I didn’t take my usual walk after evening check-in into Silver Basin for water and huckleberries. Wanting some huckleberries for my morning oatmeal, I picked some in the yard around the Lookout this morning …….although they aren’t as plump and juicy as the ones in Silver Basin.

The birds are busy around Baptiste Lookout every morning and afternoon. They twitter and flit from tree to tree and sometimes land on the Lookout catwalk. Nothing, however, compares to the family of owls who visited me again last night.

Even before the morning weather, there was a smoke report near the North Fork Road. The smoke was located on the east side of the river (Park side) around Mile Marker 11 1/2. Two helicopters were sent to do bucket work. Jet boats and engines arrived to assist in the operation.

This afternoon is the Fire Weather Watch with the expectation of dry thunderstorms with gusty winds and lightning. The worry is that these storms may create new wildland fire starts. Today was a day of weather watching.

Storm cell dumping rain in Wheeler Creek Drainage

After the morning weather, I finished staining the undersides of the boards for the picnic table. I was finished by lunchtime and stood in the tower watching two storm cells move west to east near the Lookout. One was to the north and the other one was dumping rain on Wheeler Creek Drainage across the reservoir to the west. Baptiste Lookout received only a few drops of rain from the latter storm cell that went overhead. No lightning was visible in these storms.

According to radio traffic, helicopters were dropping buckets of water on the Thompson Fire. Pilots were instructed that water dropped on one side of the Divide had to come from that side. One pilot indicated that no water had yet been dumped east of the Divide. The Nyack Patrol Cabin had not burned, but was in danger. The scattered storm cells hampered the work of the helicopters.

Storm cell south of Baptiste Lookout

Storm cell slid east behind Baptiste Peak leaving rainbow

After evening check-in, I watched a storm cell move in from the south toward Baptiste Lookout. A grey sheet of rain enveloped one drainage after another on its march north. However, right before it hit my Lookout, it seemed to turn and slide along the east side of Baptiste Peak. I caught the edge of it with high winds and rain on my south windows and then the east windows. The wind continued to whistle even after the storm cell moved on leaving a rainbow over Baptiste Peak. There was no lightning.

Everyone was particularly worried about a huge storm cell south of Missoula that was moving this way bringing high winds and lightning. There was a high probability that it would hit my Lookout. It looked pretty wicked on radar as I followed its course on my iPhone. Winds could be 50-70mph.

Sky getting darker as storm cell moves in

As I cooked and ate dinner, I watched the sky getting darker and the winds getting higher. I noticed that the fire plume from the Thompson Fire was huge……. bubbling up behind Unawah Peak ……whipped up by the high winds. The radio chatter was all about the coming storm……

Smoke plume from Thompson Fire seen behind Unawah Pek from Baptiste Lookout

I sat with paper and pencil watching the sky until late into the night recording lightning strikes. Although radar showed that my Lookout was in the middle of the action, the worst of the weather seemed to pass to the west and move north. At times there was rain and wind, but nothing like I imagined. Most of the lightning near my Lookout was cloud-to-cloud which cut awe-inspiring forks across the sky. My fellow lookout on Firefighter Lookout took a great picture that is posted on the Facebook page for the Northwest Montana Forest Fire Lookout Association.

While starring for hours out my windows last night as the storm cells moved through, my owls came back. They were flying around the Lookout during a break between storm cells. One of them landed on the railing of the catwalk right outside the window. We stared at each other eye to eye for several seconds before she flew away. When you sit still long enough and observe, miraculous things can happen.

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