Tuesday, July 9, 2013


As I wrote in my last installment, the weather forecast did not bode well for our community in relation to the Stuart Creek 2 fire.  Sure enough, the forecast proved true and the hot, dry conditions an strong winds from the South allowed the blaze to nearly double in size in a single afternoon.  

The bright red areas in the map below shows just how much the fire spread on Sunday.

Fire Progression Map courtesy Alaska Fire Service

After finishing the truck repair project I wrote about in my last post, I came into the house and noticed that I had missed a call on my phone.  I dialed the number back, and learned that the evacuation warning had turned into an evacuation notice.  Our place lies only about 100 yards beyond the official boundary of the notice, but out of an abundance of caution I decided we should put our plan into action, and bug out.

I got ahold of Trish, who was working at the farmer's market.  She was back home with an hour and we put our plan into action, loading the dogs, grabbing up last minute things, and then heading west to camp out at Peggy Billingsley and Darrel Harphem's pace, at 10 Mile.  That was well away from the evacuation zone and seemed like a logical place to set up a refugee camp.

The first order of business when we arrived was to stretch out the two picket lines needed to confine 20 dogs.  Two widely spaced trees worked for one end, and the truck served as the anchor for the opposite end, using ratchet straps to stretch the lines taught.  My reproduction of a late 18th century bell-back 'wedge' or 'A-frame' tent would serve as our living quarters for the duration. 

Basic camp set-up.  Click for larger view.

 Darrel and Peggy were wonderful hosts, providing us with comfortable camp chairs, a camp stove to use instead of the wood strove I'd packed for the tent, and even a nice, cushy recliner that got good use as we watched over the dogs.
Trish and Swanny in Refugee camp.  Photo by Peggy Billingsley

We learned that officials were allowing residents to come and go to remove belongings, so Peggy drove Trish back to the house to pick up here car (we bugged out with the dog truck and my little roller skate car full our our most important things).  During that trip, Trish was able to bring out some things we had forgotten about while planning our evacuation.  High on the list was people food, as all we had packed were some Mountain House meals.  They'll get the job done in a pinch, but aren't nearly so tasty as ham, eggs, fresh fruit and so forth.  Coffee was also on the list, and though only a luxury, it's a luxury I relish in the morning.

After Trish returned, the dogs were fed, watered and scooped, and we were settling in for the night, our friend who had camped her dogs at our place during the Kanuti Fire stopped by, and gave us a treat of some ice-cream, which made for a delightful surprise and a wonderful mid-night snack.

After we fed, watered and scooped after the dogs Monday morning, Trish headed back up to check on the condition of the house and property and grab a hot shower while I watched over the dog.  The only Internet access I had was through my smart phone, which isn't the best tool but sure beats nothing at all.  The only real frustration I felt during the whole incident was the lack of reliable information.  Rumor were flying fast and thankfully most were unfounded.  No homes have been lost, the fire hasn't 'jumped' the main highway or any of a million other rumored calamities.  That doesn't mean it didn't try, and a few spot fires formed north of the Chena River, but the firefighters were able to douse them in short order. 

Meanwhile, I spent the day dozing and scooping after the dogs.  They were living on short pickets, so it was important to keep their very limited spots as clean as we could.  Trish returned with only an hour or so to kill before heading back to her workplace at Pleasant Valley Store.  Even when living in a refugee camp a woman's appearance is important, and Trish spent some of that time - well, the picture speaks for itself.

Trish, painting her nails in refugee camp
While Trish was away at work, I had several visitors in camp.  Some were friends and neighbors just checking to be sure we were O.K., and some were folks I'd never before met doing the same.  Had we needed anything I have no doubt it would have been provided in very short order. 

The evacuation order was lifted late yesterday afternoon, but I decided to spend another night in camp.  With Trish at work, the logistics of breaking camp and hauling everything home was more than I felt I could reasonably manage alone.  We started our day this morning with hot coffee savored while the dogs digested their breakfast, and then started loading up.  We had everyone and everything back at the house by about 1:00 this afternoon. 

We are still under an evacuation watch, and the fire continues to burn.  We were allowed back only because wetter weather and a shift of wind direction has made it safe for us to do so.  The firefighters have been taking advantage of the better fire weather by working hard to build containment lines along the north and northwestern portions of the fire.  The most recently published fire map shows the progress they've made as a dark black line.  Our place is almost directly between the 17 and 19 mileposts marked on the yellow section of highway north of the fire.  You can click on the map to see a larger view of the image.

Perimeter map of Stuart Creek 2 fire as published by BLM early this morning.
Much of my afternoon was spent restocking the stuff we used while at refugee camp, and repacking to include things we hadn't considered while originally planning for this evacuation.  Some of those are pretty basic things like extra tent stakes, camp chair, a propane camp stove versus the wood burner, and even a propane fired heater, which was greatly appreciated during the early morning. 

If we do have to evacuate again, we are even more well prepared than before and I'm sure it will go even more smoothly.  After all, we've had some practice at this.


  1. I'm so happy all are safe. Glad all is well at the house. I sure hope you don't have to do this again, but you have learned a few things and I'm sure if thre is a next time you will learn more. We are never too old to learn, right? I bet the dogs enjoyed a change of place, as well. How did the kitties handle it? if they are like mine, they didn't like it at all. Mine dont like the Moving part of our travels and are very vocal about it. Once we stop, they are fine and ready to go explore even if I'm not ready to let them out.

  2. We were glad to have you campin' out! If you need to bug out you know where to come. And yes the lazy boy will be put out again for you guys. LOL.

  3. Mountainrose, the kitties didn't think much of it at all. They were VERY put out about it. Yesterday we picked up harnesses and leashes so we can at least take them walk about from time to time if we have to do this again.

    Peg and Darrel, thank you SO much for your hospitality and help. It is greatly appreciated.