Fire and Avalanche Watch
The back country office (BCO) is a small building near the road at Tower Ranger Station. Duties start with raising the flag, then reporting on the weather by measuring the rainfall from the previous day and temperature ranges. Visitors stop in for fishing permits, hiking advice, and other questions related to their day. After lunch break, the BCO was closed for an hour so the fire engine could be tested through the Roosevelt cabins and other areas nearby. An old engine passed down from what must have been a station from the sixties.
Near the end of the test lightening strikes started sounding closer and closer, then an assault of hail began that infuriated the bison and irked the horses and scared the wranglers who were at risk of being bucked off. Returning to the Ranger Station we backed the engine into the garage and I jogged back down to the BCO to catch the last hour of my shift. The weather began to pass and the rains danced away in the distance through the Lamar Valley. A small car then pulled up to the BCO and four teenage Idahoans rushed into the small room and breathing heavily said that there was a fire. “We took a picture! Look at it, the smoke. Just down the road. Where’s your bathroom?” With that, one of the girls grabbed the keys from her friend and sped off to the rest area adjacent to the station. I reported the fire sighting to the district supervisor who I’d just finished driving the fire engine around with. My roommate, retired fire chief from Massachusetts and current Yellowstone fire watch ranger, must have heard the report through the radio and took off in his personal vehicle toward the location of the lightening strike. Firefighters from Mammoth Hot Springs were dispatched. At the end of the shift, I lowered the flag while keeping an eye on the thunderous sky, then went to see for myself this wildfire. A mile up the road, firefighters in yellow were attacking the fire and put it out before it expanded to other trees. Fires are natural and benefit the ecosystem of Yellowstone but its proximity to the road made sense for it to be extinguished. A moose watched from the distance as a confident child approached my vehicle and demanded to know whether it was a bull.
The day had ended in good form. Earlier in the morning the road through Dunraven Pass officially opened after being deemed safe to drive through. Snow still covered most of the mountain, but the peak began to clear after several days of warm temperatures and the danger of avalanche finally passed. Inspected a few days earlier, the threat of snow slides was declared slim and the decision was made to finally open the last closed road in the Park.
Yellowstone is now officially open with the Grand Loop finally accessible to all visitors.