A Season of Drought and Wildfire Changed My Food Preserving

| 9/7/2015 9:17:00 AM

Mt Marston Montana Wildfire

The Summer of No Rain

This year the rains didn't come. We don't have a well and rely heavily on the rainwater we collect during our "rainy season" in May and June, along with whatever is left of the snow melt in our rain barrels and tanks. We also rely on water pumped using a gas-powered pump from a marsh 700 feet away. This year, the tanks stayed empty and the marsh nearly dried up – so much so that we couldn't pump water out of it.

May was dry but we expected the rain to pick up as we got into June. Normally, it's hard to even get the garden planted between rains, so no one was worried at first. We went through the entire month of June, a month that is normally our heaviest rainfall, without a drop of rain. May 23 was the last entry in my journal for rain. It was a light shower. And it didn't rain again until a light shower on July 5, which was followed by only a few other showers over the rest of July and August.

Fireworks were canceled in towns across the region on Independence Day. The grass was brown and crackled when we walked on it. Fire restrictions were in place and, amazingly, there were no wildfires over the summer in our county — until one night in early August.

The Fire Starts!

My son works at a nearby golf course that has cameras on the course, which also cover the mountainside behind the course. During the night of August 11, a camera captured a lightning strike high on the shoulder of the mountain. By morning, a thin column of smoke was rising, and within a few days it had spread over the shoulders of five adjoining mountains.

Our property was never in danger from the flames but the smoke filled the valley to a choking thickness. No one was evacuated but we left for a few days to clear our lungs. We moved valuables such as pictures, journals, financial and tax records to our daughter's house 70 miles away.Mountain Wildfires In Montana

We gathered garden tools and the rototiller to the center of the garden where they would be safe if the wind shifted and the fire jumped the highway and headed our way. In years past we had thinned the trees around the house and garden, and pruned limbs up at least ten feet above the ground, for fire safety. I store my canners and dehydrators in the root cellar, so I knew they would be safe. They're considered essential tools, since most of our food is preserved with them.

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