Saturday, August 05, 2017

‘Out of the ashes:’ Harrowing accounts from the front lines

Alaina Browning’s pickup truck slowly rumbles down the dirt road to her home at the convergence of the Musselshell River and Calf Creek. Progress is slow because the innumerable amount of trucks and traffic that have traveled the normally lazy road have churned up sharp rocks and dug sand pits deep enough to bottom out low-riding cars. Then she hits the brakes. Out of the passenger window, she sees three rebellious cows she thought she lost in the fire. “Out of the ashes, girls,” Alaina said. “You made it.” Alaina is calm and matter-of-fact as she cruises the dusty road. It’s hard to imagine that less than a week earlier, she and her husband Travis were racing through walls of flames down the same path to make sure their daughters and home weren’t taken by the 270,200-acre Lodgepole Complex Fire. “Travis was sent to the Square Butte Fire and then to the South Breaks Fire (two of the fires in what has been called the Lodgepole Complex),” Alaina said. “I was with him to provide support from our fuel truck. We heard radio traffic saying a local was injured at Calf Creek, and they were being taken by ambulance. We didn’t know if it was one of our kids.” The Brownings have six daughters: Tristany, Tierany, Tory, Tylee, Tawny and Tinley and a 17-month-old grandson named Reid. All but Tristany were at the house as the flames poured over ridges and toward the Browning Ranch. Alaina said she climbed to the top of Square Butte to get cell reception, but the smoke was so thick that she couldn’t get a signal. After radio chatter reported incoming high winds, Alaina and Travis jumped into the fuel truck and raced to their ranch. Fire climbed the ponderosa and pines beside the road; the grass and sage brush were blazing. Flames jumped across road and around the fuel truck. “There were flames and embers shooting over the hill,” Alaina said. “It only took the fire three minutes to get from one ridge to another. There were fire tornados. The fire was so hot, it was making its own lightning...The word I kept thinking was ‘Armageddon.’ There was black and fire everywhere.”...more

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