Blue Mountain's phoenix act

The early hours of March 29, 1993, were disastrous for Missoula's Blue Mountain Clinic. Flames engulfed the Kensington Avenue facility after a firebombing destroyed Blue Mountain and outraged the community. Richard T. Andrews, an anti-choice activist from Washington state, pleaded guilty years later to having set the fire during an arson spree involving eight women's health clinics across the western United States.

The fire became a turning point for Blue Mountain, which spent two and a half years building enough public support to construct a new facility on California Avenue. Blue Mountain has made strides in the intervening years, says spokesperson Lynsey Bourke, and will mark the 20th anniversary of the fire with a commemoration June 21 of "the clinic's resilience in the face of so much adversity."

Much has changed at Blue Mountain since that night just over 20 years ago. But it's not just bullet-proof glass and security systems that characterize how the clinic and the community have responded. Rebuilding gave Blue Mountain an opportunity to expand both its space and its practice. Bourke explains that the clinic now has a burgeoning transgender health program and is getting more involved in new ways of teaching sexual education. The family practice side itself was only just taking root before the fire, she says. Afterwards, it "bloomed."

"The initial feminist vision that brought Blue Mountain Clinic to Missoula has evolved into an understanding that in order to take care of the woman, we have to take care of her whole family," Bourke says.

The anti-choice protests outside Blue Mountain have undergone a similar shift over the years. Bourke notes that "in the last years, the anti-choice protest has been peaceful and respectful for the most part. There haven't really been any threats to any of our clinicians or our staff."

Marking the anniversary of the fire has also allowed Blue Mountain to build up an archive of sorts. The clinic intends to display recently collected photos and a number of items—including a melted phone and pen holder—during the commemoration, alongside a video featuring interviews with those who were working at Blue Mountain at the time.

"It just feels good that we're still here in the community, and that we have been able to expand our services so much," Bourke says. "Looking at where we were before the fire and now, it's amazing."

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