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Guest Opinion: The cool, white miracle of Sept. 10

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Guest Opinion: The cool, white miracle of Sept. 10
A welcome snowfall dusted a fire truck from Fremont County, Wyo., parked in Yellowstone's Mammoth village on Sept. 11, 1988. The snow marked a change in the weather that allowed firefighters to gain the upper hand on giant wildfires that had raged for two months in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

I continue to hold the date of Sept. 10 in my mind every year as a day when a benevolent force stepped in and reversed the momentum of a destructive force that was occurring.

By Saturday, Sept. 10, 1988, the Yellowstone fire had jumped Highway 191 north of West Yellowstone and was burning on the west side of the highway, traveling north at a rapid rate, fueled by a strong, warm south wind. The temperature that day stayed at about 74 degrees as fair-weather cumulus clouds above moved northward. This fire had almost consumed Old Faithful Lodge several days earlier.

Evacuation procedure

By mid-afternoon Saturday, my fellow employees at Big Sky Resort's Huntley Lodge had received an "evacuation-procedure" sheet instructing everyone as to what to take with them upon departure, and describing the orderly manner in which they should drive the nine miles down the mountain to the Gallatin Canyon highway.

The fire had progressed to 17 miles south of Big Sky, and if it continued at the same rate, we could expect to hear the siren within hours.

I am forever thankful for the front-row seat to the Theater of Miracles that unfolded between about 5 and 6 p.m. At that time of day, I went to my camper just above Mountain Lodge to let my cats out. As I made my way, the south wind suddenly stopped, as if a button in the sky had been pressed.

Moments later, a strong northeast wind started up, as if another button had been pressed. The temperature started dropping rapidly, and grayish clouds started moving in at a fast rate from the Spanish Peaks that are located to the north.

Welcome sight

White clouds from the south and gray clouds from the north met over Lone Mountain, engaging in a swirling ballet motion, while the wind suddenly shifted to coming from the northwest, and the snow began to fall. This benevolent miracle production of a 35- to 40-degree drop in temperature and snow falling happened within the time frame of about an hour.

Fire crews from many distant locations staying at Huntley Lodge acknowledged that the fire had not been contained previously, and that the arrival of this sudden weather reversal was spectacular. The Great Meteorologist smiled as the fate of the fire was sealed with yet another snowstorm the weekend of Sept. 17, and again on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

The snow that had fallen proved to be a gift, since there was little precipitation and no snow between Sept. 20 and Nov. 3, when the permanent winter snow cover arrived.

Editor's note: Jim Frigo is a Billings musician. The Gazette reported on Sept. 11, 1988, on "a million-dollar rain" that fell the previous day in Cooke City and Silver Gate, zapping the fury of wildfire and allowing residents who had been evacuated to return home. On Sept. 7, 1988, a firestorm had swept through Old Faithful village and another flank of the fire advanced on Mammoth while the fire's western arm threatened West Yellowstone. The snow and rain of Sept. 10-11, 1988, marked the beginning of the end of Yellowstone's summer of fire.

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