Last Sunday, Sam and I took our friends out for a ride up to Cliff Creek Falls. They are some Amish fellows from Pennsylvania who were here doing some work for a friend of ours while simultaneously enjoying a little get away. We had a great day and a wonderful ride. When we returned to the trail head and our truck we were approached by a forest service personnel who informed us that there was a fire started by lightning at the highway entrance to the road we were on. He instructed us to go down the road to our friends Ron and Connie Palmer's camp to await instruction.
At this point we look up to see a huge cloud of smoke rising from the area between us and our home. We immediately become very worried. We find a note in the truck from Paul who came up to see if he could somehow tell us to get out as soon as possible. Worry begins to set in.
We head down to our friend's camp and help them get ready to load up. The fire was started very close to their camp. They saw the lightning hit as did Paul. They from their camp, him from our front porch.
I begin frantically trying to get a text out to Liz. There's talk of the Black Powder being on fire and the fire moving very quickly towards the south and my home. I immediately begin to think of evacuation of our horses. I get in contact with Liz. She's grateful we're alive and begins moving to load horses and hook up trailers.
When we arrive at the highway entrance to Cliff Creek Falls we are told that we must go to Hoback, that we are not allowed to go to Bondurant. Like hell, I thought. But I remained calm and courteous to the people there at the roadblock. We could now see flames and part of the destruction the fire had created. The whole entire right hand side of the road was burnt to a crisp and still flaming. The smoke was so thick it was impossible to see south towards Bondurant at all. There was fire on both sides of the road. The highway patrolman told me when he first arrived it was maybe half an acre but within 20 minutes it was the entire mountainside. That's fast.
Sam spoke with some friends from the Bondurant Fire Department, which he recently joined. They give him a ride through the fire to our home. I am grateful for this. Soon the highway patrolman asks if I can drive the rig. ABSOLUTELY, I say. Just let me get home.
We follow him through the giant black smoke cloud and the complete devastation is revealed to us. Monument ridge was burning like crazy. The Black Powder lost a hay barn and a tack shed. The flames were practically licking George and Patty Engler's home. And it was racing down the ridge towards the Elk Horn and ever closer to my home. Across the highway it was threatening the Fisk properties and burning up towards Garden Creek as quick as it could go. It was like driving through the valley of hell. Black smoke and flames over a hundred feet in the air. Mind boggling, amazing, and humbling.
I arrive at my place to find Liz, John, JR, and Ruthie have managed to get all the horses that we didn't have with us caught and loaded onto trailers. Random people pulled in off the highway to help, hooking on to our horse trailers with their trucks. My fifth wheel was almost ready to go with slide outs pulled in and things tucked away in a hurry. Liz runs up to me and says, "Thank God you're alive and they let you out! They just came and told us we need to be evacuating right now!". So, we finish buttoning down my camper, get it hooked to someone's truck. Then we get the chickens loaded in crates. Then we help Sam get guns and other items of immediate importance out of the house. Our fear was that if we evacuated they wouldn't let us come back for some time. Get it now or else you might not get it was our thinking.
I look at Sam and say, "Are we ready?" We think so and are just about to head out when the people in charge of evac tell us we can wait a minute. "PANIC! No, Just Kidding. You're fine. Stay here." Too late. I already panicked.
So, everything ready to roll at a minutes notice, we stop to watch the insanity. Sam heads out to help the Bondo Fire Department any way he can.
I have to say. I was pretty impressed with how quickly all these people came to help us. The fire was knocked back a few notches by the retardant planes and water dropping helicopters and we were all safe for the night. No structures lost except the one hay barn/tack shed at the Black Powder. Eventually we unload horses. Paul sits by the tack shed with his water hose and a beer. My adrenaline runs out and I become very, very tired.
A restless nights sleep. Sam stumbles in, exhausted, at about 5:30 AM. I awake to smoke and want to know what's going on. Where are the bomber planes? Where are the choppers? The way the smoke is coming up over Monument, I'm sure that the fire is going to come back over the top of the ridge and right for us. Around noon it does just that.
We all, about 20 of us altogether, sit in lawn chairs in the driveway and watch. What else is there to be done? Seeing those flames crest Monument Ridge and begin down the face of it, towards the Elkhorn, towards our house, was unbelievable. The speed with which those huge flames could eat up the forest was amazing. Watching the trees literally explode one by one was like something from a movie. The helicopters return but we don't see a big plane all day. The helicopters work all afternoon pulling water from behind the Elkhorn and dumping it as fast as they can. Back and forth, zoom, zoom, dump, dump, again, again, again.
The wind doesn't help them any. It takes them all afternoon. I can still see flames out my window that night when I go to bed. I'm still on edge and have a restless sleep. Sam heads out for round two of night watch.
Day Three and they start with the helicopters much earlier than day two. They seem to get Monument under control. But now they've got a whole new problem. The fire is burning up Shoal Creek and towards the Granite Drainage. They incite a mandatory evacuation of the Jack Pine Summer Homes and surrounding area. Frank Teasley's kennel seems in danger but with 180 dogs, where can he go? They decide to wait it out.
At this point the canyon has been closed from Daniel Junction all the way to Hoback Junctino and it's eerily quiet around here in between helicopters. The smoke in the mornings in nearly unbearable. We watch the smoke plumes from Garden Creek and Shoal Creek areas with heartbreak. That's our home, even if it's not our house. We were watching our livelihood burn up right before our eyes.
This was a post I made on Facebook in the middle of it all. "My heart is broken for what has already been lost. This is our home we are losing even if it isn't our house that's burned down. We spend our lives out there in those woods. We know every nook and cranny and beaver pond and crooked aspen tree. We have memories of seeing bear tracks here and of having killed an elk there and of having hiked through that one little timber patch and remember that time old Patches bucked so hard he got his lash rope caught in that tree? Now that tree is probably gone. And it might of been just a tree to anybody else but to me that was a whole story. A reminder of that one time we were here and something cool or crazy or scary or funny happened. I'm scared sure. I might have to evac in the middle of the night. Everything our family has built may be at risk. I want to be mad at someone but I don't know who.
But mostly I'm heartsick. I feel a great emptiness at what has gone up in smoke. All those places that I knew in such an intimate way. Places I've ridden through a hundred times or more. Places my husband has ridden through too many times to count. Places his dad probably cut the trail himself. Places we all love with all our heart and soul. Poof. Just like that."
And ever since then we have watched more and more of it burn up. Shoal Creek, Garden Creek, Whiskey Draw, Riling Draw, Parody Draw, Tin Can Park maybe.... just rolling through everything that has been everything to me for the last seven years and decimating it as it goes.
It's been especially hard to watch from here, unable to REALLY tell what's going on out there. Praying for rain, praying for no wind, praying for it to stop. We've heard rumor that they expect it to keep going until we get snow.... so we're praying for one of Wyoming's famous July snowstorms.... we haven't got it yet.
This week it has really dawned on me how much this is going to affect us and our business. The road has reopened but much of the area we usually do our rides in is still closed to access. It was lucky that somehow last week we had no clients booked for rides. This week, however, I had lots of stuff booked. Two cancellations later, I have lost thousands of dollars due to this fire already. Between the smoke, the closures, and people's perceptions of what's going on here due to what they've heard through the grapevine, it's making it very hard for us to continue as usual.
I have places mapped out for new ride routes and am ready to continue with the business. We can make it all work. There is still plenty of countryside around, and all of it beautiful and (so far, knock on wood) unburned.
It has been a wearisome, worrying, exhausting experience. It has effected us in ways we never even thought of before.
We are thankful for everything that we haven't lost. It's good to have our home and livestock and family safe and sound. We are thankful to the men and women who have sacrificed their time and risked their lives to come ensure that we are all safe and sound.
Thanks to everyone for the kind words, prayers, and well wishes. It has been amazing to see the support of everyone. People we know and don't know alike. I had offers from friends in Jackson of bringing a convoy of horse trailers around the roadblock to help us get all our stuff out. I'm thankful it didn't come to that but even more thankful that if it had, there were those out there willing to help us. We had offers of pasture for our horses, places for us to stay, etcetera, etcetera. Sharon has been having trouble breathing with the smoke so our friends offered up their place on Fremont Lake where she's been staying for several days and they've been feeding her at their restaurant and making sure she's taken care of.
This isn't the most well written post, sorry about that. I've been unable to write for a while but I do have some stuff I'm working on for the very near future (assuming there are no more emergencies or natural disasters or anything like that). Thank you all for sticking with me and continuing to read my posts. I just wanted to get this out to you guys and let you know what's going on with us.
We will be all right. I know that because I know us. We will figure out a way to work with mother nature because that's what we do....