Before the Sheep Herder Hill Fire (Photo by Pat Greiner)

My husband Ron and I got the call on Thursday from Natrona County authorities letting us know that our cabin was among the buildings that were destroyed in the Sheepherder Hill fire. On Saturday morning, we met our escort from Emergency Services at the Beartrap parking lot where he explained some basic safety precautions, and we drove into the fire area.

At first we were struck by how little damage was visible … the trees all along East End Road were green and healthy. When we turned off East End onto the road leading back to our cabin, the only sign than anything had happened was that the normally rough and rutted dirt road had been smoothed by the passage of many emergency vehicles. A little more than half a mile in from East End, we began to see burned trees. A trailer house was reduced to a twisted wreck, but further into the burned area, another trailer was untouched. As we got closer to our place, the burn looked more intense. Trees were blackened but still standing. The thatch of small fallen lodgepole pines, the thick spongy layer of many years’ worth of pine needles, and all the undergrowth of grasses and shrubs were entirely burned away, revealing the true contours of the land.

After the Sheep Herder Hill Fire (Photo by Pat Greiner)

When we reached our cabin site, we saw the warped and twisted remains of the metal roof sitting on the ground atop a pile of ashes. The destruction was so complete that it left us feeling numb. We poked around looking for any recognizable items that remained … the copper post caps from the front stair banister, the metal frame of a small folding table, the head of a ceramic cat-shaped candle lantern from the front porch, the springs and frame from the sofa-sleeper, the wood stove and firewood bin, a few melted and congealed lumps of glass that used to be windows, and endless nails, spikes, and screws. The metal front door was folded in half and reduced to the consistency of heavy cardboard. We puzzled over a perfect circle of white powder about 15 inches in diameter and half an inch thick, finally figuring out that it had been the cast marble top from an end table. The resin that held it together had burned away, leaving just the powdered stone.

Directly to the south of our cabin, the view down the hill and over to Muddy Mountain is still green and beautiful, with just a few some patches of singed grass. But a quarter turn to the right, the forest is blackened and ashy. Our escort showed us how the trees had been killed but not burned all the way through – the blackened outer layer was only a fraction of an inch deep, with undamaged wood inside. He told us they could still be harvested for firewood.

The unpredictable nature of fire showed in the shape of a stump standing at the edge of the woods. Its top was still about 8 inches in diameter, but the base was almost entirely burned away, leaving the top perched on a thin support. The picnic table/bench that sat in front of the cabin was almost untouched, with just the base of one plastic leg melted away.

The destruction was so complete that it seemed to lessen the psychological impact. I think it would have been harder to see fragments of walls still standing, or find more bits of the contents. The fire had done its demolition work thoroughly and the heat must have been incomprehensible. The fact that no one was killed or even injured during the entire effort is a testament to the brave and dedicated fire crews who worked around the clock.

Building our cabin 6 years ago gave us many of our fondest memories and the greatest feeling of accomplishment we’ve ever had. Next year, we keep reminding ourselves, we will get to experience that feeling again.