When a fire grows to 11,171 acres, it is right to be frightened. It may not be blazing in your backyard, but if the sky is gray and your nostrils are thick with smoke, you must pay attention.
This is a wildfire area. We have been fortunate since 2016 the only major fires encroaching on Cody were rarely more dangerous than a grill.
Faced with uncertainty of how much the Fishhawk Fire could spread, a heavy dousing of rain over the weekend helped provide some relief by Sunday. From worry it could spread into a serious conflagration threatening homes, people and livestock, rain allowed humans to inch toward taking command faster than seemed likely. More beneficial rain is forecast.
Hurricanes and tornadoes can ruin lives, destroying homes and possessions. Look at the Bahamas, virtually drowned by Dorian – same for earthquakes. In California and Alaska, they talk of “The Big One,” the day the earth shakes so violently cracks appear resembling glacial crevasses.
Most natural disasters bring tragedy. Sometimes the scale gains the sympathy of the world, and foreign aid to help the helpless.
Rain is good for farmers and plants, but hurricanes are rain multiplied by 100. No survivors walk away saying, “Well, that was good for the crops.”
Fire is more complex. Fireplaces and camp fires are welcome on frigid nights. In the right circumstances, people like fires.
Forest fires in places like Yellowstone National Park or in the Shoshone National Forest, as the Fishhawk is, are said to be part of a natural cycle, good for the land. As policy, sometimes they are not fiercely fought, but watched.
The mood changes when the cabin you have enjoyed since childhood is reduced to kindling, or when you have to flee home and everything you ever owned goes up with the smoke, leaving you with the clothes on your back and not much more.
Alaska, hotter and dryer than ever this summer, faced fires of nasty disposition this year. The Swan Lake Fire on the Kenai Peninsula was not long ago up around 164,000 acres. If that was beneficial, it was too much of a good thing.
Likewise, the fire burning on the Parks Highway, connecting Anchorage to Fairbanks. As 1,000 structures were deemed to be at risk, somehow the road was kept open, though a pilot car led traffic slowly through the smoke for 28 miles.
Only a few years ago, a friend of mine was burned out in the same area. A dog musher, she rescued her huskies, some clothes and not much else.
The Cody area does not need any bonus 90-degree days again soon in late summer. The cooler, the damper, the better for the firefighters on the North Fork and for those whose lives are entrenched near trails that were shut down for safety.
Maybe drenching rain meant this fire peaked when there seemed no hope of that and 200 personnel in the field can soon hasten home, as can those who had to evacuate with worry.
It is difficult to predict when Mother Nature will be friend or foe.