While we appreciate the pyrotechnic glory of an evening lightning storm as much as the next guy, thunder wasn’t the only sound we gleaned from the stunning electrical melee that swept over the valley last Friday. Alas, after observing nearly two dozen lightning strikes in a 10-minute span, we knew with a fair degree of certainty that the accompanying booms were the sound of the other shoe dropping, and dropping hard.
After a month-long siege of brutally hot, dry weather with fires raging out of control 100 miles to the north and south, the question of wildfires in our nook of the hills had become a matter of when, not if. A gnawing, uneasy feeling of impending doom settled in, fueled by remembrances of fire seasons past—in particular, the nightmarish confinement of August 2000, when oh-so tantalizing relief from 95-degree days and throat-burning skies was denied by an order that shut down all access to rivers outside of town.
So here we are again, not yet under virtual house arrest, but breathing that same smoky air, squinting through the haze to make out familiar landmarks around town, living in the flickering shadow of conflagrations beyond our control. But as ashes from the trees on Black Mountain float down to alight in our drinks and on our clothes, we’re struck yet again at the marvel of Ma Nature’s dominion over us puny humans. This is her world, after all, and we’re just living in it. And this time around, at least we received the not insignificant gift of witnessing the awesome moment when arcs of fire rained from the sky, igniting the beautiful and terrible synergy of fuel and spark on a scale that makes us shake our heads in sheer wonder.
Ever wonder which is the best job to have if you want to break the law, get caught, but not get punished? You can be one of those parking ticket-scofflaw foreign dignitaries from New York or D.C. You can be the daughter of the town minister in Footloose. Or, in Montana, you can be a firefighter.
Marschal G. Rothe, a 36-year-old firefighter, was caught speeding in the Livingston area on August 3. Not much of a crime, unless you’re drunk, which Rothe was. Rothe was arrested, and two days later pleaded guilty.
Typically, a first offense DUI carries a $660 fine and an immediate six-month driver’s license suspension in Livingston. But not this time. According to an AP story, Rothe explained to city court Judge Neil Travis that he was a firefighter and had spent the past six weeks battling the omnipresent wildfires burning throughout the state. Rothe asked the judge for a favor—delay the sentencing so Rothe could keep his driver’s license and get back to fighting fires. Travis agreed.
“We need firefighters in the state of Montana at this point in time worse than the state of Montana needs your driver’s license,” Travis was quoted as saying.
Travis delayed Rothe’s sentence until October 27—weeks after Montana’s blazes typically burn out. While the decision rings of Judge Judy’s arbitrary and capricious nature, a glance over the shoulder at the smoke obscuring the horizon suggests that Travis may have a point.