Tom Clyde: Impacts of Dollar Ridge Fire felt even 30 miles away
The Dollar Ridge fire, near Strawberry Reservoir, is still burning. People are still displaced, and uncertain if they have a house to return to when the fire is out. The damage to buildings is substantial. It sounds like much of the loss will be uninsured because fire insurance isn’t available on houses located where the fire department can’t get to them in the winter, assuming there is a fire department in the area at all, and even if they did, there is no water to fight it with. So the losses there will hit hard. So far nobody has been seriously hurt. Everybody got out safely, which is something of a miracle as fast as it spread.
The fire is about 30 miles south of my house, and the smoke has been choking at times. Compared to what the people at ground zero are dealing with, that’s a minor problem. But it has affected things. Everything stinks of smoke. The hummingbirds disappeared during the worst of it. I’ve got a couple of hummingbird feeders out on the deck, and all season long, they have been swarming it. When I’m sitting out there eating breakfast, I feel like I need a tennis racket to defend myself.
When the smoke cleared, they came back. I always thought they found the feeders by sight, though it’s a stretch to think that a hummingbird brain would recognize different bottle shapes hanging on a second floor deck and equate that with wildflowers growing at ground level. They don’t look at the dryer vent as a food source. So they must find the feeders by smell. When everything stunk like burnt forest, they seemed confused. Nothing smelled like flowers anymore.
Once the smoke cleared they were back, ravenous, and in greater numbers. There are rival gangs, and one particularly feisty rust-colored one that tries to drive the rest away. In the evening, the protracted aerial battles are well-orchestrated and occupy a lot of airspace. I’d never given the idea of hummingbird poop a second’s thought, but it’s accumulating on the satellite dish on the post below the feeders. It seems like a rare commodity — hummingbird guano. Maybe that explains the news recently. It is all getting corrupted because the signal has to pass through the hummingbird poop to get to the TV. Maybe things aren’t as messed up as they seem. One can only hope.
The other big impact of the fire was the traffic. Highway 40 was closed for several days. When it was closed, about 9,000 vehicles a day needed to be somewhere else. Most of them ended up on S.R. 35 over Wolf Creek Pass, through Woodland, Francis, Kamas and Quinns Junction before getting back on 40. It was pretty miserable. There were caravans of oil tankers barreling down the canyon with the engine brakes on at all hours of the day and night. They were traveling fast, and I’m more than a little surprised that nothing rolled over in the hairpin turns. There’s a dead deer about every 500 feet, and that smells worse than the smoke. There’s a lot of traffic between the Wasatch Front and the Uintah Basin. Having it driving more or less across the front lawn was a shock. It was very nice to get back to normal.
As we charge ahead with doubling the population on the Wasatch Back, I’m afraid that traffic volume will become the new and very unpleasant normal.
Speaking of population growth, I have a new puppy. It’s been fascinating watching the old dog, Elmer, accept the pup. We went on a long walk the other day. It’s a dirt road on the ranch where Elmer tends to be within about 100 yards of the path, but never actually on it. This time, he walked on the path, and seemed to be telling the pup which trees had squirrels in them, which burrows needed to be sniffed at, and where the water holes are along the way.
House training has been very easy so far, apparently because Elmer has given him the word that you don’t do it in the house. They are getting along great. In the living room, they nap curled up with each other, with the pup chewing on Elmer’s tail. The only friction seems to be Elmer’s bed, which apparently is sacrosanct. If the pup gets on his bed, there is a growl that sounds like some beast from the pit of hell. If the pup sleeps next to the bed, everything’s cool. But if he even puts his nose on Elmer’s bed, there’s trouble.
I got a couple of chew toys for the pup. At first the squeaky thing in them was unbelievably annoying. But I’ve come to appreciate it. As long as I hear the stuffed hedgehog squeaking, he’s probably not chewing on the leather couch.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.