By Akali Springs Correspondent
The week of the large Moose Peak fire that entered Glacier National Park in the vicinity of Lake McDonald, we were staying at Apgar for a few days. With extremely hot days, we did not know how close the fire would come to us or whether we would be able to stay at Apgar for the rest of the weekend.
Then, as what so often happens, a wonderful rain and snow came along and all but put out the fire before it reached Lake McDonald over Howe Ridge. For a 67,000-acre fire just to the north of us, it was amazing how little smoke there was at Apgar. In fact, there was much more smoke on the east side of the mountains in the St. Mary area.
And, as usual, and as with most fires, there was controversy. We had a hard time getting information about the fire when we were very close to it. In fact, we got more information from daily Montana newspapers than in the park itself. At the Apgar Visitor Center one morning, there was a page of fire news that rangers said would be issued each morning. The next morning there were no pages of fire news to be found.
In the meantime, a Flathead Valley correspondent had written a column very critical of the way this fire was being managed. His contention was that to get the fire out, it took men fighting it who were not afraid to lose their lives if necessary even though that does not happen often. This columnist had indicated that so long as fire managers were satisfied to just sit back and look at fires, they would never get many put out. It was a scathing attack, we thought.
The next morning, when we came to the fire information desk, there was no information. We asked the ranger about the status of the fire, and he told us there was a fire information officer right behind us and to ask him. That fellow was bellowing to anyone who would listen that there were supposed to be media people present and he would take them to the upper end of Lake McDonald and show them how cabins and houses were being wrapped to save them from fire should it get that far. Unfortunately, no media types had shown up, so he was upset. We asked the man if he had read the column by the critical columnist. He said he had and that he did not agree with it, and that, in fact, no one did, but that the columnist was within his rights to write what he wanted to. With that, the man stalked off to his car and drove away.
That made us think about the nature of fires and firefighting. You know, there ought to be a huge incentive paid to firefighters to get the fire out. But instead, there is this long parade of folks who spend millions of dollars on a fire and the fire continues to burn. We say pay the millions of dollars, but pay it to the men and women who put it out after it is out. Now that is a revolutionary concept, we realize. It sort of borders (dare we say it?) on free enterprise, and we suspect that there must be a thousand page book written somewhere as to why it wouldn't work.
So instead we have this huge business each August and September and lots of fires that burn until winter snows put them out after spending fantastic amounts of money on them.
The columnist we referred to ended his column by saying, "Pray for rain." That night it snowed and that was basically the end of the huge Glacier fire of 2001.Thank goodness!