This clearing is just across the creek from the house, maybe 150 feet away. It was all on fire when I arrived home from errands Tuesday afternoon. Fortunately a neighbor had already called the fire department, and they arrived right behind me. I grabbed a long-sleeved shirt and a shovel, tied my hair back, and joined them. I'm not sure how much of a difference my efforts made, but there's no way I could stand back and just watch.
By dusk, the fire was out except for a few smoldering spots -- old logs, dead trees, stumps, and what remained of the big bale of hay in my neighbor's pasture. About 35 or 40 acres had burned, but not my house or barn, not the livestock, and it hadn't spread beyond the two properties, mine and the farm pasture to the west. Neighbors made sure I had their phone numbers, and the fire chief made sure I planned to keep an eye on things through the night and would call them if the fire flared up again. For some reason, he thought it necessary to tell me twice that I was NOT to try to put it out by myself.
It's been more than 24 hours, and I'm still keeping an eye on some smoldering stumps. I've washed the ash and soot out of my hair. A couple of naps eased the exhaustion. I keep walking out, checking the sky for smoke, walking the burnt perimeter to check for sparks, dumping jugs of water on embers that dare to show themselves. We've had little rain or snow the last few months, and the land is so dry. I'm nervous. And grateful, so very grateful that the damage wasn't worse, that my home is safe.
A lot of that gratitude is owed to the volunteer firefighters who came, did their jobs well, and treated me with consideration and respect. In the dark of the night, as I patrolled the fire's path, checking for hot spots, alone except for my dogs, I found myself smiling. A lot. I live in a great place, surrounded by great people. It's home. Really home. I belong here.
There's still the issue of how the fire started, and the education of a certain person, who doesn't seem to understand the finer points of choosing an appropriate time for a 'controlled burn'. I'm told he's been ticketed for burning during a drought-induced burn ban. I'm told he's been billed by the fire department for firefighting expenses. I'm told he may build a house down this way and someday be a neighbor instead of a weekend visitor. My neighbor with the burnt pasture next to mine and I discussed all this today. We think it's a path we need to tread carefully. There's a long future to consider.