GEORGE, Wash. - A plume of smoke puffed up over the horizon as the sun started to set behind the stage at the Gorge Amphitheatre on Saturday, the second night, third set of Phish. | >>> SKIP AHEAD FOR FIRE INFORMATION
The band closed Friday with "Fire" by one of Washington's favorite sons, Mr. Jimi Hendrix.
Even without a billowing column of smoke over the already stunning backdrop of Central Washington's share of the Columbia River Gorge, the song fit.
If you motored up from Oregon, you likely stood - or at least drove - next to some fire.
Folks from Portland or Eugene and points beyond and inbetween typically take Highway 97 north at Biggs Junction after The Dalles on Interstate 84 via Goldendale and Toppenish, en route to Yakima and almost Ellensburg (worthwhile detour) on their way to the Gorge.
The jam band fans can add up to a traffic jam all on their own. My wife and I found ourselves at a dead standstill in bumper to bumper traffic in the slow lane of Interstate 84 back in 2009 waiting to make a left and cross the bridge at Biggs Junction.
This year, Mother Nature shaped the fray.
A forest fire - dubbed the Mile Marker 28 fire - closed Hwy 97 a couple days before the show and kept it closed through the weekend.
So Phish, known to tease and intrigue fans with not just music and lyrics but set lists, could be applauded for a deft nod.
But the billowing tower of smoke Saturday off the Colockum Tarps Fire - (the name alone could be a Phish song) - mushroomed in a tsunami of smoke as a brisk wind blossomed with the dusk.
By Sunday morning, ash had fallen like snow on the tarps and tents at a large fan camp dozens of miles south of the flames.
The Colockum Tarps Fire started around 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 27.
Wildland firefighters generally dub blazes after named points adjacent to first reported smoke or a likely ignition, like a campground or a lighting strike.
Colockum Tarps got rolling in the vicinity of the intersections of Colockum Road and Tarpiscan Road, south of Malaga in Chelan County, Washington.
Malaga is near Wenatchee, Washington.
"Although there was significant helicopter and aircraft effort made, the fire spread quickly, burning dry grass and brush, exceeding 1,000 acres by 11 a.m.," the management team reported Sunday night. "Several unoccupied structures and outbuildings burned."
An overhead team - fire pros who spend the season mustering resources on big fires - took charge.
The sheriff ordered evacuations.
Three homes burned.
The fire continues to grow. Mile Marker 28 didn't go away, and lightning set Douglas County in southwest Oregon ablaze.
You can prevent forest fires. Apparently, some people put them out, too.
And lightning remains a wild variable.
But if you live in the American West, more than road trips and concerts are at stake.
Homes burn. And too many firefighters sacrifice too much, too soon.
Mark Furman has covered wildland firefighting season across Oregon, the Northwest and the Great Basin since 1997. He first saw Phish in 1996, then not again until 2009, and now admits he might have been wrong.