Bridger Foothills Fire: Close to ‘home’

This is a totally unscheduled and ‘unscripted’ entry. Woke up this morning to hear of a wildfire breaking out near what is effectively my second home in Bozeman, Montana.

The video above is a timelapse looking north-east from Bozeman at the Bridger Mountain range. You may need to visit the video and enlarge it to see it, but note the letter ‘M’ on the slope on the right-hand side. That is called the ‘College M’, and is both a recognisible landmark and popular hiking trail. I’ve walked that (and along the parts of the Bridger Mountain ridge) many times, I’ve even taken British school-kids hiking there.

Note you can see a small ‘stream’ of smoke coming just above and to the left of the ‘M’? From what I have read, that is (or is close to) the ignition point of the fire. The bellowing smoke that you see coming from behind the ridge is there because, helped by wind gusts, the fire creeped up the ridge, spilled over the ridge edge and is now engulfing the other (eastern) side of the range. I was concerned already, but now, I’m very much alarmed. My family have a house in the ‘canyon’ (more acurately, a glacial-trough valley) on the eastern side of the Bridger range.

Here is some drone footage I took in that canyon from two years ago.

The drone is flying due-south. Those foothills on the right are part of the aformentioned eastern-side of the Bridger range. So the fire has spread down from there and from what information I can gather, into this valley being filmed. My family’s house is of camera shot more-or-less directly below the drone.

The valley is located on this map where the ‘red wing’ fans out to the east.

24 hour composite from NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS), screenshot at about 9:00am UTC (3am local time in Bozeman).;l:countries,street;@-110.9,45.7,12z

The FIRMS map show infrared signals and significant temperature anomalies (i.e. fire) have been detected in the area around our property. Now without visual confirmation by authorities on the ground, we cannot be sure that everything in red is burning. These indications via FIRMS do not necessarily mean that it’s all on fire (or more accurately, that every square meter is on fire) – just that the temperature anomaly and brightness detections are great enough to suggest that the area is burning with enough coverage to raise the ground and air temperature. So it is possible that individual properties may come through unscathed or with light damage only. At least, this is what we are hoping!

All everyone can do now is hope for best with regards to everyone’s properties and livelihoods. In terms of loved-ones, we’re very relieved to hear that our family members who are currenty staying at the house (and from what I’ve heard all our neighbours) all safely evacuated in good time – and that main concern at the moment is managing worry and anxiety.

For the time being, the community needs to stay safe, keep away, and wait. In a flash, a Facebook group of over 5000 members has sprung up, in order to best collate offers of help, support and information. I’m on there anxiously too.

I’ll be closely monitoring the situation with a mixture of nervous anxiety, but also geographical intregue. I didn’t think I would be experiencing a ‘natural’ disaster so close to the bone like this. Now the house is a second family home, not primary for any of us – so we’re fortunate in that respect. But it’s still crushing – the memories, emotions etc contained within those walls are precious. My wife and I got married out there, and it was the base for the 2012 field trip I led for a group of high school kids, amongst many other precious things.

I’ll update later today as a new day dawns in Bozeman and more news comes out.

UPDATE: 9:45pm BST (2:45pm MST – Bozeman local time). The local sheriff department has allowed residents to go into the affected area to carry out checks, retrieve valuables, pets and livestock etc. The progress of the fire has slowed, and so far we’re lucky with regards to the family house. But, excuse the pun, we’re not out of the woods yet and many are holding their breath until a much awaited change in weather comes in the next half-a-day, bringing probable rain. The ‘burn’ map below shows the area underneath that ‘red wing’ on the map above. The areas that have burnt are within the red boundary with the ‘teeth’ pointing towards the burnt area. Fortunately our property and that of most of our neighbours is sitting just east of that. But my heart goes out to everyone with a property the other side of those red lines. Some have reported that their house is gone, some have said they’ve got lucky. I’m off to bed now and will check in and update when I can tomorrow.


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