Day 12 as a Volunteer Fire Lookout, Thursday, August 24, 2017

By | August 27, 2017

Grey clouds blanketed the sky this morning.  When I opened my eyes, I was staring at Coal Ridge to the west.  Smoke! I thought as I sat up in my bed, heart pounding.  After rubbing the sleep from my eyes and grabbing the binoculars, I realized that what had looked like smoke was merely a place on the ridge with no trees where the rocks had a smoky appearance in the early morning light.  Laughing at myself, I crawled out of bed and looked around.  The smoke was still active on the Adair Fire.  Although subdued, it was blowing to the north instead of south as yesterday.  Due to the smoke in the southern valley, I still could not see the smoke from the Sprague Fire.  Although smoke was still drifting over the Whitefish Divide from the Gibraltar Fire, the clouds were obscuring a good view.  The Cyclone Fire looked completely dead although a fire crew would be checking for hot spots.

Rain on the western windows | photo by Debo Powers

Before I had made breakfast, I saw my first rain in several months as it bounced off the western windows of Cyclone Lookout.  The temperature began to drop.  Huckleberry Lookout read the fire weather report to the fire crew at the Adair Fire. The prediction was that a cold front would arrive at 0900 bringing rain, erratic winds, and lightening throughout the day.

Sometimes a fire is nice | photo by Debo PowersThe temperature kept dropping as the winds and rain battered the Lookout. The sound of rain was delightful after several months of drought. However, the chilly temperatures made me consider starting a fire in the wood stove. Instead, I bundled up and drank hot tea and enjoyed the chill after an usually hot summer.

After the first band of rain had passed through, I got excited about something that looked and acted like smoke east of Nasukoin.  However, minutes later I noticed all of the water vapor rising from every drainage and realized that I had been fooled. There was no smoke; this was water vapor!  Water vapor rising from Cyclone Lake formed clouds all around the Lookout and my visibility instantly lowered to zero. I was enthralled by the realization that I was in the middle of the process of cloud formation! This was so much more exciting than reading about it in a textbook. Once in a while, I could see the surrounding mountains shrouded in white, wispy clouds, but for several hours I could not see past the railing on the catwalk. I finally started a fire in the wood stove and settled down in its warmth with a good book.

Once my visibility improved, my view to all of the fires was still obscured by clouds. The afternoon passed slowly.  Luckily, the lightning that was predicted never arrived.  Although lightning storms are exciting to observe from a Lookout, lightning in this dry fire season is everyone’s enemy. I spent the uneventful afternoon reading my book and practicing yoga.  When the evening check-in was complete, I took a walk to escape the confines of the Lookout and see how the forest looked after the much-needed rain.

Evening walk in the woods | photo by Debo Powers

As I entered the forest, the fresh, evergreen smell enveloped me. It was as though the trees were broadcasting through scent how much they had appreciated the rain.  I visited the two huckleberry sites that are part of a citizen science project and counted the berries on our numbered bushes.  All of the remaining berries were dried and ready to drop. Our North Fork Huckleberry Team counts these bushes once a week and this may have been the last count of the season. It felt good to sweat on the hike back up to the Lookout after sitting most of the day.

When I returned, the sun was shining on Cyclone Lookout, but Glacier Park and everything to the north was still shrouded in clouds. There was no way to monitor the fires in the area, so I started dinner and listened to the wind as it howled around the Lookout.

By sunset, the sky had cleared somewhat and the evening light bounced around on the remaining clouds. It was reported that the Adair Fire had calmed down today due to the rain.  The same is probably true for the other fires in the area since no smoke is visible.  We received a great gift today….rain with no lightning.  Everyone, including the forest, was rejoicing.

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