‘Under Fire’

By Beacon Staff

At some point this weekend, in between barbeques and boating, conversation among my friends turned to fire. My companions, both Southern-born, mentioned how their perception of forest fires had changed when they moved to Montana. They grew up with the threat of hurricanes or tornadoes – natural disasters that have always seemed a bit surreal to me, something experienced only in movies or through images on the evening news. Major forest fires, for them, were similarly distant events.

Growing up in Montana, though, fires have always been an unholy and all-too-real topic. Each summer, here, as the weather heats up and the forests dry out conversation turns to speculation about fires. How many will there be this summer? How many acres will be burned? How much money will be spent fighting them? Then, there’s the politics of fires, the recurring arguments of how best to fight them – or whether we should fight them at all.

I thought it was interesting that my friends noticed a distinction between fires and other natural disasters that a feature story in this month’s National Geographic pointed out as well:

“The Western wildfire season generally begins in late spring and lasts into fall. Like other seasonal disturbances—hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms—we have learned to fear its approach. Red walls of flame, leaden pillars of smoke. But fire is the one natural event we regularly treat as though it were alive and battle vigorously as if it were an invading host. There are no hurricane fighters, no tornado-fighters.”

“More and more, we lose.”

The article has several connections to Montana, including details from last season’s Jocko Lakes fire and a Missoula resident’s attempt to use virtual modeling to predict the fires and direct resources. It’s an interesting read with fantastic photos, sure to give you a timely conversation starter as the weather and speculation about fires heat up.