Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Trip - Butte

We spent the night in Butte last night, and the smoke from the fires followed us all the way there.

Now, Butte is not the garden spot of Montana. It was/is a mining town (mostly copper) with an open pit mine in the city. They have a historic district downtown, including a couple mansions that were built by the mining magnates of the late 1800s. That said, overall tourists don't make plans with Butte as their destination.

So it was strange that the campground was full. People kept coming in all night, and I couldn't understand what the attraction was. We were there because we took our time leaving Seeley Lake in the morning, and then we spent a lot of the afternoon going through the old state prison and car museum in Deer Lodge. Butte is as far as we got.

Granted, there were a lot of motorcyclists headed for the annual Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, but it wasn't until this morning that we got a hint about where everybody else came from.

The family that camped next to us was from Spokane, Washington, and they were headed for Philipsburg to do some climbing around on the rocks. They had tried to stop in Missoula for the night, but all the hotels were full. All the hotels. It seems the fires in Northwest Montana had forced evacuations that sent people flooding into the neighboring towns for hotels. And the firefighters needed someplace to sleep, too.

So the family pressed on, looking for a vacancy. And when a policeman tried calling hotels on their behalf and came up empty, they had to move to Plan B. At 1:30 in the morning, they went into Butte's 24-hour Wal-Mart and bought a tent and sleeping bags. By 3:00am, they had pitched camp next to us.

They were nice people, with a teenager and a pre-teen, so I gave my favorite parenting advice for that age: Slamming doors is to be punished by removing the offender's bedroom door from its hinges for a day. The mom was as thrilled to get the advice as I had been.

She reciprocated by letting us have their newspaper, and the lead story was about the fires. The Jocko fire had spread and was heading toward Seeley Lake, causing evacuations around Jocko Lake and Placid Lake and some areas south of the town of Seeley Lake. It seems we left town just in time, though the area around the pastor's house was safe for now.

How quickly fire spreads! And as it does, it's going to get harder and harder for the evacuees to find a place to stay.

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