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The summer of 2015 is the summer of wicked weather. Misery lies at the feet of tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods in the midwest and eastern part of the United States. Washington state is overwhelmed by both forest fires and hurricane force winds that killed at least three people over the weekend.

Idaho smiled through a wet spring and early summer. July came and went without smoke-filled skies. That all changed the morning of August 10, when a lightening strike kindled cheat grass and sage in Owyhee county at the southwestern edge of the state.

The Soda fire tossed embered gauntlets to the swirling winds and by the next day the fire was doubling exponentially in size. In a little over a week, 280,000 acres of private and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land was desiccated. Fortunately, no humans died, but countless cattle, sage grouse, deer, rodents, and at last count, 30 of approximately 300 head of wild horses from three major herds have been found dead. Ranchers saved some of their livestock by trailering them out of the fire zone, but that accounted for only the small percentage of their herds that happened to be close by. During the summer months, cattle ranchers rely on the vast BLM scrub land for grazing. I have not heard estimates on the loss of livestock yet. But it will be high. This morning I drove out to see for myself just what was left.

The fire line came painfully close to the scattered ranches near the Snake River

The fire line came painfully close to the scattered ranches near the Snake River

Drawing closer, the enormity sets in.

Drawing closer, the enormity sets in.

As far as I can see for 360 degrees, lies mute, black testimony.

Mute, black testimony as far as I can see for 360 degrees; no stock will be coming to this feeding station.

Ubiquitous cheat grass with little nutritional value ignites like diesel.

Ubiquitous cheat grass with little nutritional value ignites like diesel.

The result of too much cheat grass.

Leaving this

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A heavy silence followed me through charred ground. Gone are the many grand raptors that soared over this ground; there’s nothing for them to eat. Gone is the dry-sweet smell of sagebrush, replaced by a vinegary smell of dampened embers.

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The distant lowing of cattle wrenched my heart. Was it feeding time at the ranch a mile away, or where they nursing injuries?

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Remarkable signs of life a week after the inferno tore through here.

Remarkable signs of life a week after the inferno tore through here.

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I had the sensation of warmth from the blackened earth. But when I laid my hand on it, it was no warmer than the unscorched gravel fire break road. It was my mind playing tricks on me.

The cattle noise was coming from this ranch. It's buildings & corrals were saved, but not the pastures and hay fields. Cowboys were busy evaluating and taking stock of what's left of their herd. There won't be feed this winter, there isn't feed now. I felt their misery from my distant viewpoint.

The cattle noise was coming from this ranch. It’s buildings & corrals were saved, but not the pastures and hay fields. Cowboys were taking stock of what’s left of their herd. There won’t be feed this winter, there isn’t feed now. I felt their misery from my distant viewpoint. If you look closely, you can see the black tracks of the fire as it leaped across the road behind the ranch.

01f4567cec686fa6d4f5621203970abb3966f54bcdThe Soda fire was just the trigger for all mayhem to come. As of August 29, the National Interagency Fire Center, based in Boise, reports 70 fires have burned nearly 2 million acres. The Army has deployed 200 soldiers to the fire lines and the Air Force has assigned at least six air tankers. Fifty-eight brave fireline personnel from Canada have joined 68 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand to help protect residents, homes, and livestock in the path of wild land fires around the west.

Years like this are becoming the norm. I am glad I’m reaching the end of my time on this beleaguered planet.