Close To Home

By now, unless you choose not to pay attention to national events, you have probably heard of the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona that claimed the lives of 19 members of Prescott’s Granite Mountain Hotshots unit, one of who was from Montana. This is a tragedy that strikes pretty close to home, and my heart goes out to the friends, family, and lovers of those killed.

Of all the disasters that can strike the area I live, natural or otherwise, wildfire is at the top of the list (barring Yellowstone Park blowing up, of course). They pull water to fight fires from the river where we run our dogs and stalk trout. They train smokejumpers just a couple miles, as a crow flies, from where I live. I’ve seen fields that fill with elk and deer in cooler weather essentially become military-like camps when a big fire requires a base be established somewhere nearby. Every summer it’s not a matter of if we’ll get any clouds of acrid smoke settling over the Missoula valley, but when. Fires are a part of life out here, and they seem to be getting bigger and harder to contain.

It is a rare thing when I travel this time of year to not be on a plane with a half-dozen or more members of various hotshot crews. We send them all over the country. I’ve stepped aside for hotshot crews, men and women both, training at various areas around here where I take exercise, running up and down the various hills and trails that surround the Missoula valley. I have friends who are or have been firefighters. Friends of friends who fund their entire year with just a season’s worth of grueling, dangerous work. Hell, there was a time in my life I was considering looking into what it would take to become one. To me, these people are Western archetypes right up there with dusty folks in cowboy hats, boots, and Wranglers. I have the highest respect for them.

I’ll leave commenting on the politics behind this phenomena to other people who have a better handle on them. Me, I’m just going to take a moment of my day to reflect on the sacrifice those 19 souls made, and hope that we get through the rest of the summer without any more lives taken. But at some point I’m sure I’m going to be pissed, especially as more evil shit like this comes out. Some people, man. . . .


The United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association, together with the Prescott Fire Fighters Charities, have established a 501(c)3 relief fund. More information can be found here.

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

6 thoughts on “Close To Home”

  1. I actually knew one of the fireman. I have vague memories of him on a youth group wilderness trip on the Green River when I was in Utah. His mother was my wife’s boss. He was just a kid then. He was 32. It’s a tragedy. Have you read “Young Men and Fire” by Norman Maclean?

    1. That’s like the media, I guess, to find a snappy label for what happened rather than do any real in depth reporting about these kinds of events. The entire Mountain West, among other places, is just one huge conflagration just waiting to happen.

  2. Since my nephew’s death in a house fire, two weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about preventing fires and, additionally, brave men like these 19 who perished helping others. My thoughts go out to their families in what I now know to be an unrelenting time of grief.

    A fine post, Chris.

    1. Thanks, Dave. My best to you and yours in the wake of your family tragedy as well. Growing up my dad was pretty fire paranoid, and I’m glad he was, because I inherited the trait, it would appear. One really can’t be too careful, and even then it often isn’t enough.

Leave a Reply