Flying into a wall of smoke

The forests of northwestern North America are aflame. Yesterday I had the eerie experience of flying into a wall of smoke and witnessed a landscape transformed in a strangely beautiful way.

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A forest fire spreads near Eureka, Montana. Photo by Harvey Locke

Tinder dry from a low winter snow pack and minimal spring and summer rainfall, there were 101 fires burning this week in the forests of  Montana alone. Fire not only transforms the ground, it changes the landscape and sky.

Though we knew it might be smoky we had work to do. We were  to fly over some important areas for grizzly bear conservation in the Cabinet and Purcell Mountains along the Canada -US border to observe their landscape context. Our experienced pilot, Bruce Gordon of Ecoflight, took us up and we headed towards Troy, Montana to  pick up some colleagues. The smoke got denser as we flew west. Everything we could see from the airplane was obscured. We had flown into a wall of smoke.

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A wall of forest fire smoke under a blue sky in the Flathead Valley on the US-Canada border. Photo by Harvey Locke

Though I knew mountains lay ahead of us, they were  invisible. So prudence dictated that we bank around and head instead to inspect another important area for conservation, the trans-boundary Flathead Valley.

We flew along the edge of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and the area conservationists propose for its expansion into British Columbia. The smoke created an amazing layering effect. Though I have be there many times I have never seen anything like it.

Kintla Lakes and the mountains of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park under a smoky sky. Photo by Harvey Locke




Meet the Author
From his base in Banff National Park, Harvey Locke works in the Yellowstone to Yukon region and around the world to protect parks and wilderness areas and to conserve the larger landscapes they are located in. With camera in hand, Harvey visits adventurous places with remarkable people to engage in the science and practice of nature conservation. His goal is to see at least half the world protected in an interconnected way.