Summer and Smoke

Adjusting to the reality of wildfire in the National Forest nearby.

It’s high season again in Dubois. There’s almost too much going on: Museum Day, the art show, the Day of the Cowboy, the square dance, the rodeo. The town is packed with strangers, there’s lots of traffic, and the joint is jumping.

But the one event on nearly everyone’s mind is …


… the Lava Mountain fire. To fire officials, it’s another “incident”, which seems far too benign a word. Nearly 600 acres have burned so far, not far from all those ranches about 30 miles west of town, on the way to the pass. And there’s no end in sight.

It began with a lightning strike 4 days ago. The first flames were too remote to reach in that forest wilderness. It’s too dense and hot for firefighters on the ground to approach the epicenter, so they’re hitting the edges from the air, while the ground-based firefighters focus on protecting structures that might be in harm’s way.

We see helicopters every afternoon, trailing buckets of water on very long lines, and fixed-wing aircraft that circle and drop orange clouds of retardant. (Why wait until afternoon? Because that’s when the wind blows up and the fire starts to move again.)

There’s no rain in the forecast.


Here’s the camp they have set up in the town park for the firefighters. The experts have descended from Montana and other places.

I saw a truck for rodent control, and wondered why it was there among the emergency vehicles. Do they try to protect the ground squirrels as well? The poor ground squirrels …

Smoke has already been a feature of our lives for part of every summer. Even fires from Idaho and Oregon send yellow clouds our way and make our noses tickle. This year, it’s closer.

In New York City, people adjust their lives to avoid crime. In California, they worry about earthquakes. Many people in other places somehow going on living with the fact of war or terrorism. Here, amid beautiful historic forests, we have to expect wildfires. This is our reality.

What effect does this have on us?

Last year, we pulled a lot of weeds and laid gravel around the house. Yesterday, we ordered 2 air purifying machines on the Internet.

DumpHike1We’ll need to adjust our schedule to account for the smoke that hangs in the valley in early morning, clears in late morning, and billows again in mid-afternoon.

Among other inconveniences, the fire has ruled out some of my go-to hiking trails west of town. I’ve always hiked in late afternoon, when the air cools. I’ll have to rethink that.

Yesterday morning, I had errands in town (miles farther east, away from the fire). Afterwards, the dog and I set off for one of my other go-to hiking haunts: Behind the town dump.

I believe the plateau beyond the landfill has the most spectacular views in the area. Turn in any direction, and the view is fabulous. You feel you’re on top of the world.


Someone told me that somewhere Dubois has been granted the distinction of having the nation’s best road to the dump. The road beyond, although rutted, is even better. It leads on and on for many miles. I’ve been briefly lost up there.

Here you see my dog in the foreground with some long-dead nonhuman remains. The landfill is in the background, at center. (It’s not really visible in this picture, but that’s where I saw it when I took the shot.)

Way out beyond the landfill you can see teepee rings, evidence of people who lived there many centuries ago. They circles are hard to identify among all the other rocks lying around. It was years before I could persuade a friend to take me up there and point them out.


I found yet another promising trail behind the dump. It led over the knife-sharp top of a ridge, and sank promisingly into the folds of the badlands. I couldn’t spare time to follow it very far yesterday. (A tempting prospect for the future.)

The badlands are always fascinating to explore. I love to follow the draws to the top, and to rest in the shade in the overhangs.

How I wish there was a way to capture depth in these images! You can’t see how  high I am, and how far we will clamber down someday to reach the bottom.

My route  home took me right toward the location of the fire (though not anywhere near it). From the highway, you’d have no idea there was a raging conflagration somewhere out there, dead ahead. Just billowy summer clouds, and that beautiful valley. This was at 1:45 PM.


© Lois Wingerson, 2016

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Author: LivingDubois

I am a retired science journalist, devoted to enjoying and recording the many pleasures of life in the Wyoming's Upper Wind River Valley.

3 thoughts on “Summer and Smoke”

  1. Wow how amazing one natural weather event can affect so much for so long. Adjusting is the right thing to do and being smart and safe. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I remember living in Denver during the Hayman fire and it was so close to the front range, the smoke was blowing into the city. From Golden’s Lookout Mountain you could see it all blowing in and settling into the bowl the city sits in. Usually once a year I’d have my favorite fishing or hiking spots closed due to fires elsewhere in the mountains. Around here, it’s all thunderstorms, flooding and hurricanes though.

    We don’t get near the scenery or access to the beauty you get to see though. Soon though, hopefully soon. 🙂

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