Sunday, August 25 – Fire!

Yellowstone has about a dozen wildfires a year. Last year was no exception but they were in areas that didn’t affect anyone’s summer activities. What a difference a year makes.

Last Saturday (normally a day off) I filled in as a dock hand. We are typically short staffed as the season comes to an end and this year the dock staff was thin to start with. Around 1:00 we noticed a huge plume of smoke expanding skyward not far from the marina… and our employee campground. We later learned that a section of the forest near our favorite hiking area had been hit by lightning on Wednesday and the fire had smoldered for several days. Saturday’s warm temperatures and high winds fanned the flames and we ended up with what became the biggest fire of the year… right in our backyard.

Over the next few days the fire grew to over 7000 acres – certainly not big by comparison with the other fires in the news this year but big enough to become the focal point of everyone’s lives for the entire week (and likely the duration of our season). As of last week’s posting we were on standby to be on standby to evacuate (I’m not making this up).

small fire

Monday morning I received a call from the one of the other boat captains asking if I could fill in that afternoon for a fellow captain who wasn’t feeling well. When I returned home that evening I was stunned to find that Mary Ann had all our belongings stowed and the trailer was ready to roll. We could have been on the road in an hour if necessary. I was also surprised at the number of empty campsites in the park. One of the other concessionaires had told their employees to evacuate, so about a third of the RVs were missing.

I went to work for my normal shift Tuesday afternoon expecting to be told to go home and take our trailer south. From out on the lake we could see the smoke plume grow wider by the hour but it was difficult to tell what “wider” meant relative to where our campground is. Mary Ann had received word from what we both thought was a knowledgeable resource that we should have an evacuation bag packed just in case we had only minutes to get out.

On Wednesday Mary Ann’s two day work week  began and it turned into “take your dog to work” day. Because of her angst at possibly having 10 minutes notice she got permission to bring Kalaig to the office. Everyone at the office enjoyed having a new “mascot.” But by evening the campground had become a beehive of fire crew activity. Firemen from the surrounding communities were swarming through the campground positioning equipment at what must be strategic locations and setting up heavy duty sprinklers connected to fire hoses to spray the area.

Up to this point we had had no hard information from anyone in authority. Rumors were abundant and everyone was growing frustrated. Neighbors who work in other departments (but for the same company we do) were getting different (and conflicting) guidance and information. No one knew what was true and what was misinformation. In fact we had so much misinformation you would think the government was involved. Heyyyy… wait a minute…

In the midst of all this fire fury, our wildlife has left the building. One of the interpretive rangers told us the bison have all headed north and south to escape the smoke. Gotta love instinct. So, for the time being, we are exempt from the usual grunts and traffic jams normally associated with the bison rut. We took a drive this morning and saw only the occasional stray bison and very little else.

In order to support the fire crews, a temporary cell phone tower was put up somewhere nearby. I don’t know exactly where, but that’s ok because WE HAVE CELL PHONE SERVICE at our RV. Not just any old cell phone service. We have 5 bars and 3G! I may start to like this fire stuff. And from all indications, we’ll be living with it until we leave. Just 2 weeks left.

And, though fire activities have dominated our lives this week, we have not been without the usual drama and craziness at the Marina. But this week our visitors have outdone themselves. Friday as we were heading out for a tour, some guests were driving one of our rented motorboats slowly and erratically enough that I had to take evasive measures to avoid colliding with them. As we left the channel they took off at high speed and met up with another rental out on the lake. We lost sight of them after that, but when we returned we learned that they had been involved in a collision in which one of the boats was damaged! We went over the the mechanics dock at lunch to check it out and found a hole about the size of a fist in the bow about midway between the waterline and the gunwale.

hole in boat

Note to the 150 temporary firefighters stationed in the park: Thank you!


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