One of the things that distresses me in Montana is the sense you get, starting about July, that the whole damn place is about to go up in flames. Drought conditions have afflicted the American West for more than a decade, and it's spreading. Now up to a third of the entire U.S. is suffering from drought.
I've been spending time in Montana for seven or eight years now, and I have no recollection of summer conditions that weren't incredibly dry. It's remarkable if you're not used to it. It's as if you can feel the dryness sapping the moisture from your body. There's almost a friction to the air.
In these conditions, the slightest spark can destroy thousands of acres.
I'm eyeing the weather report tonight, because scattered thunderstorms are forecast for Thursday. It seems this is how so many fires are sparked in that area -- by thunderstorms that don't offer enough wetness to discourage fire, but just enough lightning to start one.
Fires are already burning all over the West, including Oregon, Washington and Montana.
I spent some time in Glacier in 2003 when the park was besieged by fire, and it made an stark impression on me. Last week I walked through some of the forest that had burned during that summer, and observed the succession -- beautiful wildflowers against black, charred tree trunks.
Time. As I strolled through the burn I marveled: it's only time that's the difference between a leisurely walk and standing in the middle of an inferno.