Last Thursday night was breezy and warm and I went to shoot a couple of soccer games as the Wildcats played Bigfork.
Shooting games in Bigfork is kind of fun, because it’s a nice drive and Bigfork’s fields have some of the best views in maybe the entire West.
The wind was kicking up to more than just a breeze, however, and I knew the Sprague Fire in Glacier would go on a run. So when I got home, I had a quick supper and then went to Glacier National Park to see how things were going.
I didn’t check my cell phone or the Internet. I just went up to the Park, blissfully ignorant. The boy and I went for a little hike to kill time before dark and then we headed up the shore of Lake McDonald to get a better look at the fire.
The Sprague Fire has been tough to photograph during the day because of all the smoke in Glacier from other fires, but right about dusk and into the night, it shows itself, sometimes in spectacular fashion.
Thursday was no exception and as I walked down the shoreline, I made a horrible joke to a bunch of photographers who have been watching the fire for weeks.
“If you go up here, you can see the Sperry Chalet burning,” I said, pointing up the shore.
Then I went around the corner, set up my camera gear and started taking photos.
Little did I know that Sperry Chalet actually had burned down. Everyone knew that, but me. A ranger had come down to the shore and told them a few hours before.
They figured I was a crass jerk, which isn’t far from the truth on most days, but on this day, I was innocent.
It wasn’t until I got home an checked the Internet that I saw the chalet actually did burn down.
A few days later I explained the faux pas to the photographers, who were gathered again at the shore.
They forgave me, but said they wanted to kill me when I first spouted off.
The loss of the chalet was punch in the gut, to say the least.
For weeks, fire managers had been saying they were confident the chalet was safe, so I assumed it was. The loss of the chalet brings up a host of questions, of course.
But I find absolutely no fault with the firefighting effort on the ground and in the air at the time. Having experienced a building surrounded by flames – during the Robert Fire of 2003 – I know firsthand how difficult it can be.
I recall the smoke, not the fire, being the worst of it. Imagine stepping directly into the center of a huge campfire. Now take a deep breath and keep your eyes open. That’s what it was like. You can barely function, nevermind fight a fire.
What we need now is a big dose of patience.
Once Mother Nature puts out the Sprague Fire, let’s shine a full investigative light on what happened at Sperry and see if it’s really feasible to save the beloved chalet.
We owe that to future generations of Glacier Park visitors.
Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.