The Danger of Fire Is Real Here

Spring had come. The warm winds smelled exciting, and all outdoors was large and bright and sweet.  Big white shinning clouds floated high up in clear space.  Their shadows floated over the prairie.  The shadows were thin and brown, and all the rest of the prairie was the pale, soft colors of dead grasses…
The dead grass was so tall and thick that it held up the sod…
“I do believe it’s going to storm,” Ma said, looking out of the window.  Laura looked, too, and great black clouds were billowing up in the south, across the sun.
Pet and Patty were coming running from the field, Pa holding to the heavy plow and bounding in long leaps behind it.
“Prairie fire!” he shouted. “Get the tub full of water! Put sacks in it! Hurry!”
Ma ran to the well, Laura ran to tug the tub to it… Ma was pulling buckets as fast as she could. Laura ran to get the sacks that Pa had flung out of the stable. 
Pa was plowing, shouting at Pet and Patty to make them hurry.  The sky was black now, the air was as dark as if the sun had set,  Pa plowed a long furrow west of the house and south of the house, and back again east of the house…
Laura stayed close to the house,  She could see the red fire coming under the billows of smoke…Pa was going along the furrow, setting fire to the grass on the other side of it. Ma followed with a wet sack, beating the flames that tried to cross the furrow.  The whole prairie was hopping with rabbits…
Pa’s little fire was all around the house now and he helped Ma fight it with the wet sacks.  The fire blew wildly, snatching at the dry grass inside the furrow.  Pa and Ma thrashed at it with the sacks… they stamped it with their feet.  They ran back and forth in the smoke, fighting that fire.  The prairie fire was roaring now, roaring louder and louder in the screaming wind.  Great flames came roaring, flaring and twisting high. Twists of flame broke loose and came down on the wind to blaze up in the grasses far ahead of the roaring wall of fire.  A red-light came from the rolling black clouds of smoke overhead…
Pa’s little fire handmade a burned black strip. The little fire went backing slowly away against the wind, it went slowly crawling to meet the racing furious big fire.  And suddenly the big fire swallowed the little one.
The wind rose to a high, crackling, rushing shriek, flames climbed into the crackling air.  Fire was all around the house.
Then it was over.  The fire went roaring past and away.
Pa and Ma were beating out little fires here and there in the yard…
The air smelled scorched. And to the very edge of the sky, the prairie was burned naked and black… But Pa and Ma were cheerful because the fire was gone and it had not done any harm..
…from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We’ve had a very dry late winter here in Lincoln County. We have a burn ban here now.  This means there is no burning allowed under any circumstances and that we must bring our trash to town and not burn it.
Fires were a problem on the Kansas prairie for the Ingalls family in the 1870’s.  They are a problem for us on the Colorado prairie now, too.
There was a recent fire in the Punkin Center area of Lincoln County that burned 2286 acres of land.  It didn’t burn any structures or house, thanks to the heroic efforts of the local fire departments.  They say it was started by a smoker tossing out a cigarette. The fire “jumped the highway”, that is went across the paved road, which is actually unusual out here.  It is all very scary and unchecked, it could have burnt my little house on the prairie down, too.  We are grateful for our fire fighters.

Almost four years ago, there was a fire in our pasture.  Thanks to the heroic efforts of the fire departments and neighbors, we were also unscathed.  The fire did not touch our house, outbuildings, firewood or garden.  We are truly blessed.  Now on with our pasture fire story…

Thursday, June 28, 2012, when it was very overcast and had cooled down quite a bit, I went outside with the kiddos to work on my project in the chicken house.  (I was working on a stall for the goats.  I wanted to be able to keep a few separate for times like this when one [Jade that time] has an injury.)  The children were contentedly playing while I checked the chickens, took some clothes in, gave water to all the animals, etc.  I happened to notice my closest neighbor drive by my house away from her house.  I gathered some of my tools.  It got darker and darker.

Suddenly I heard the loudest thunder that I had ever heard in my life.  I turned to the children.  “We’re going in the house,” I said.

I happened to glance south to the pasture.  FLAMES!  Straight south of me, my pasture was in flames!

I ran into the house.  I intended to get the cordless phone to dial 911, going outside to get the children as I called.  I could not find the phone.  I tried the corded phone.  It was dead.  That’s right, the baby had been playing with the phone earlier.  I looked for the cordless phone.  I couldn’t find it.  The pager on the cordless didn’t work, it must have been off the hook, too.

OH… MY… My babies were outside, by the chicken house.  I went outside to get them.  I saw the pickup in the driveway.  It was closest. I ran and grabbed the baby and yelled for my other two to run to the pickup.  I literally threw them in the pickup.  Snuffles the dog jumped in.  The children were on the floor of the cab.  The dog was on the seat.  The baby was in the car seat, but not strapped in.  I took off.  I somehow remembered that I had seen my next-door neighbor drive in the opposite direction as her house.

I drove to my next closest neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbors-One.  I kept hoping that I would see someone drive by that I could flag down to call 911.  I did not.  

As soon as I got to the road that goes to Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbors-One’s house, I started honking.

When I got to their driveway, I ran to their house, banged on the door and flung it open.  I was frantic.  They called 911 for me.  They called my in-laws for me.  I called Kevin at work.  I spoke to the shift commander.  I told him that I needed my husband home now, I think.  It’s all a blur.  Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-One went to my house to check everything out for me.  I called Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbor-Two who lives further down the road.  I asked her to come help me with the animals.

I found out later that My-Other-Wonderful-Neighbor had come home, saw the fire and tried to rescue us.  “I’m surprised your door is still standing,” the neighbor said. “I banged it that hard.”  The neighbor didn’t know we were at the other neighbor’s house.

I felt so helpless.  I was at Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbors-One’s house.  Their dog jumped in my pickup at one point.  I had my dog and my children, but I left all my possessions, my van that I had just dropped comprehensive on, my cats, my goats, my chickens, my cows, etc.  I didn’t know what to do to fight the fire myself.  I thought about dunking the stocktank, getting a hose and all sorts of other crazy things.  
Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbor-One offered to stay with the children while I went back.  I hopped in the pickup and went back to my house.
On my way, I ran into Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-One.  We stopped in the middle of the road. He said the fire had blown east and they pretty much had it under control.  My house was OK.  

I still went back to the house. I found my father-in-law in my driveway.  I must have hugged him forty times.  There was at least a fire truck in the pasture.  There were some little flames, but not much else.

The Genoa Fire Department came.  Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbor-Two came.  Some man came with a red pickup and a water tank on trailer.  Kevin came home.  I hugged him.  My father-in-law left to pickup the children from Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbors-One’s house .  I really don’t remember the order of all of this.

This is the Genoa Fire Department getting the part closest to our house…

Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbor-Two left once she’d seen that Kevin was here and that the house and animals were OK.  Kevin and I went out to the pasture in the pickup.  We saw Kevin’s brother, my brother-in-law.  Although he doesn’t live close by, he happened to be visiting my in-laws (his parents).  He was out there with my father-in-law’s pickup with a trailer hooked to it and a giant water tank on the trailer.  

Sure I knew my brother-in-law, but there were all these people.  It was kind of like giving birth in a hospital- all these people in and out of your room or your pasture.

Kevin left to get a shovel.  When he got back, he kept sending me to get him stuff.  I got rakes.  I got him his farm boots (since he didn’t want to ruin his work shoes).   I got water.  I got the baby formula and sent it with my father-in-law who had come to get it.  I think I was making him nervous as I was trying to put out the little embers with the rake. I was six and a half months pregnant.

On one of my trips back and forth, I drove so quickly through the pasture that I knocked down the spare tire holder thing and was dragging it on the ground.  I think that’s the time my father-in-law had come for the formula.  He crawled on the ground and put the spare tire holder back up with wire.

On my way back into the pasture, Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-Three stopped me.  
“I have your spare tire,” he said.  He took it out of his pickup and put it in the back of mine.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m So&So,” he said, using his real name.  “I live blah-blah.”

“Oh, you live in the blah-blah-house.” I said.  I asked him the ages of his kids, since I knew he had little ones.  I told him that since our kids were the same age, we’d have to get them together for a playdate. We still haven’t.

Again the order of exactly what happened when was blurry.  Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-Four happened to own an entire water truck which he brought over.  More firemen (and some fire-ladies) came.  More neighbors came.  I don’t think I even knew who was here, or who they were.  I think Kevin knew most of them.  I know I asked the red pickup man his name and he told me, but I forgot it. “I know your husband,” he said.  

We still haven’t figured out his name.  I still run into him in town now and then and I mention it to Kevin and he still doesn’t know who I mean.

Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-Five came over.  He had a fire down the road on his land, and he came over to help here when they were done with his fire.  

All the wonderful neighbors, all the wonderful firemen and fire ladies and my brother-in-law all left.

Here are some of the fire trucks leaving…

The smoke was still smoldering in little areas where there were cow manure patties.  Kevin and I went around and put them out with the rakes.

This is what a pregnant woman looks like putting out a manure pile fire with a rake… I should note that Kevin was there, but he was still in his uniform. I’m not allowed to post pictures of him on the internet in his uniform because of his profession.

I shudder to think about the what-ifs.  What if it went towards the house?  What if I didn’t see it right away?  What if the first time I noticed it it was already in the house?  What if my neighbors weren’t home?

The fire was only about a football field away from our house.  It blew east, and a little north and south, too.  If it had gone north before east it would have taken out our outbuildings, our animals and our house.  It didn’t burn our garden or even our firewood.  The area burned was on two sides (south and east) of our house.  It was about 30 acres-ish burned.  I can’t imagine what the results would have been if the fire blew in a different direction, or if my neighbors or firemen weren’t there.  Thank you God for your protection.  Thank you neighbors and firemen.

This is looking north… I don’t have any pictures of actual flames…
This is looking northwest.  Those are our trees…
Burnt grass…
Yucca and cactus don’t burn…
Thank you, Hugo Fire Department…
Thank you, Hugo Fire Department…
My father-in-law’s trailer with the water tank and the Hugo Fire Department…
Cactus still doesn’t burn…
Some weeds don’t either…
Cow manure patties on the other hand burn really well…
These are most of the fire trucks when they were just about done…
An overview, looking east…
The steers seemed pretty excited about eating the yucca.  Of course this was after the fire
trucks left and the steers went out the open gate and Kevin had to get them back in…
Yummy yucca…
Although the yucca did not die in the fire, it did die shortly within a year after the fire.
I took this this morning.  This is looking south, from the northeast corner of our property.
The fence post you see on the bottom right is part of the fence by the road.  If the fire had
been this far north a little further west, it would have burned down the house…
The cows still seem pretty excited about it…
The fire even missed (barely) the wood that Kevin had dragged out there to cut for firewood…
On the left you can see our property line with the neighbor.  They got a little damage, too.
Looking southwest…
The tire tracks are from the fire department putting the fire out…
The fire went almost to the southern border of the property, but did not take out any farm fields there…
I think it’s amazing that that little strip of grass didn’t burn…

 

 


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