Kim Satterlee stood with her family by her side, held her hands to her mouth and stared at the grayish purple cloud rising from behind the mountains. "My cats," she said. "We didn't get my cats."
The Satterlee home stood at the 22-mile marker on Highway 12, right between the Schoolhouse and West Fork Two fires that erupted on Monday. Satterlee's grown children, Chad and Mandie, drove from Missoula that morning to help their parents evacuate, but when the fires began to draw together the family had just minutes to leave.
"You just don't know what to grab," Chad Satterlee said. "There's a house full of stuff, the officers are there yelling for you to hurry ... all I could think was, what would my mom want out of here?"
Chad grabbed the family photos and says he drove away just as the fire jumped the road behind him.
The Satterlees huddled together Monday afternoon in the Lolo Super Stop parking lot while frightened travelers and area residents milled about. Everyone asked for updates. Fire officials answered what they could but few things were certain. The highway was closed. Anyone traveling to southern Idaho needed to turn back and drive west to Coeur d'Alene before heading south. Residents could go through checkpoints, but only so far. Inside the evacuation zone phone lines and cell service were down.
At the corner of the Super Stop parking lot, Tyler Burt, 17, held a huge Quizno's sign to the line of cars stacked along the shoulder of the road waiting to check-in with sheriff's deputies. His coworkers sent him outside to drum up business.
Burt says he lives up Sleeman Gulch, just east of the fires. His dad, a deputy, told him their house was safe for the moment, but they wouldn't know more until later that night.
"This isn't the first time this has happened," Burt said. "I'm not worriedbut that could change later on."