Creighton Block benefits artist who lost home, studios to Roaring Lion Fire

By Pamela Caughey EBS Contributor

On Sunday morning, July 31, all was about as well as well could ever be. Our oldest son Kalen happened to be home, and my sister-in-law Claire was visiting from Minnesota. She decided to sit outside in the front yard with her book at about 3 p.m. while I was inside painting in my studio and my husband Byron was working in the garage.

Claire saw an unusual burst of smoke at about 3:10 p.m., and within minutes we saw fire trucks heading up the road past our house. Although we’d had two evacuations during the previous 16 years living in Montana, I was reluctant to quit painting. What an inconvenience to have to evacuate again, I thought.

“Golden Bison,” encaustic, 34”x34” (framed) is one of Caughey’s pieces currently hanging in Big Sky’s Creighton Block Gallery.

“Golden Bison,” encaustic, 34”x34” (framed) is one of Caughey’s pieces currently hanging in Big Sky’s Creighton Block Gallery.

However, when I stepped out the door and saw the billowing smoke glowing orange less than a mile away, it was like seeing a tidal wave coming toward us. We had little time to grab anything, but we did the best we could in the 45 minutes we had, as the fire-generated wind began to blow our way.

Our two dogs seemed eager to hop in the car, and Kalen searched high and low for the two cats, but found only Kazi; Nara was no where to be seen. Everyone helped move my large paintings, still wet, out the door and into two vehicles. It was a mad dash through the house, and I remember running upstairs with few minutes left and staring at everything in our closet. It was overwhelming and clear there was no time to “choose” anything, so I left everything hanging but a few items.

On my way out the door, I went through all the studios with grocery bags and tried to save a few materials, but somehow ended up leaving the bag with my favorite sketchbooks behind. The firemen hastened us to get out. As Claire and I drove away from the house, we thought Byron and Kalen were right behind us, but I didn’t see them in the rearview mirror. I parked the car just down the road and looked back.

The next 10 or 15 minutes were excruciating. Where were the guys? Why weren’t they right behind us? I ran up the road until a fireman stopped me and said I couldn’t return. He radioed the firemen who were at our house to tell Byron and Kalen to evacuate immediately.

Finally, Byron appeared. Last was Kalen, who had held out for Nara, much longer than he should have.

We drove east toward the highway and parked. We were taken in by our amazing friends, whose hospitality was indescribable and such a comfort. Just a little ways from their home, we watched the smoke and flames from a distance.

We found returning to the property three days later exceptionally unsettling; nothing withstood the power of Mother Nature.

“Equilibrium II,” acrylic, 30”x20” (artwork), 38”x28” (framed) is also hanging in Creighton Block.

“Equilibrium II,” acrylic, 30”x20” (artwork), 38”x28” (framed) is also hanging in Creighton Block.

It appeared we’d lost everything, and it’s true we lost many “things.” But many of these things can be replaced, if necessary. The hardest part is what cannot be replaced. We lost all of my husband’s beautiful sculptures; art from our wonderful artist friends; all of my prints, drawings, portfolios, sketchbooks and anything framed behind glass; and many of Kalen and Evan’s collectibles and art, as well.

Yet, we’ve also experienced the extraordinary goodness and kindness of others—friends and family here and far away; the Missoula Art Museum and their army of supporters; and so many artists and friends on Facebook who have sent their best wishes, and prayers our way.

We will endure, and in time put the pieces back together.

Sixteen homes were lost on or around July 31. Some people weren’t home to rescue any items. Some had just pounded the last nail in their new home, but never had a chance to move in. Others purchased a home that was burned to the ground before they could experience the joy of living in it.

We were very lucky and feel grateful to have had 11 wonderful years living so close to beautiful trails and Roaring Lion Creek. The sterile blackness will give way to new life, including new species that need the kind of environment only a burned forest can provide. We are most grateful to the fire fighters who risked their lives facing the unbearable heat, smoke and constant danger.

This story was adapted from a blog originally published Aug. 31 in Pamela Caughey’s digital newsletter, visit pamelacaughey.com if you’d like to subscribe or view more of her work. The Roaring Lion Fire burned 8,685 acres southwest of Hamilton, Montana, and Caughey lost her home, four studios, 30 years of original and collected artwork, and beloved cat Nara. Her work is featured in Big Sky’s Creighton Block Gallery and will be sold at a reduced cost with all money donated to the artist to help her rebuild her studio and career.