I had an exciting day yesterday. It was unseasonably warm for Veteran’s Day—71°F and partly cloudy, but terrifically windy!
Day before yesterday my sister-in-law, Denise, and I had spent all day plastering the walls of the earthbag house with papercrete. So yesterday I thought maybe I should take a few photos of our progress.
With my camera in hand, I walked across the property toward the house, and in the distance I noticed smoke billowing into the air.
Not good, I thought, feeling the stiff wind on my face. I decided to quickly investigate and make sure nothing was wrong. As I got closer, I could see grass burning out of control on the other end of our property, and the wind was quickly blowing the fire our way.
I turned around and ran as fast as I could back to our motorhome to grab my phone. “There’s a fire on the property!” I yelled at my father-in-law, Lee, as I ran by. He turned his Jeep around while I grabbed my phone and ran back outside, dialing 9-1-1 as I jumped into the passenger seat. We drove around to the other end of the property while I gave the details of the situation and location to the 9-1-1 dispatcher. The wind had blown a tree over and blocked the road. We drove around it.
“Hurry,” I told the dispatcher as we got closer to the fire. “It’s spreading fast, and headed toward our neighbor’s house.”
We jumped out of the Jeep and went running to the neighbor’s house. I banged on the door to alert them; they had already noticed. The elderly man was out back with his little garden hose trying to keep the fire away from their house. Flames were rapidly approaching a stack of firewood next to the house, as well as their vehicles. Lee took over the garden hose while the neighbor moved his vehicles.
There wasn’t much I could do and I didn’t have any ideas for battling the fire, so I told Lee I was going to go back up to the main road and direct the fire trucks. I asked him to move the tree off the road so it wouldn’t slow down the responders.
About 10 or 15 minutes later the fire department showed up (not bad considering our remote location at the end of a series of confusing dirt roads) and I waved them in and pointed the way. Three trucks came in, and shortly afterward another tree fell—this time on the main road where they had just driven by.
I ran back to the property to see that the fire had roughly doubled in size, spreading well into our wooded acres. The fire trucks were driving around and spraying out the flames.
Luckily none of the trees caught fire—it was just a fast-moving grass fire. The neighbor had managed to keep the flames away from his house, and the fire trucks came through with their hoses and quickly put out the fire.
After the excitement died down we wandered around and tried to figure out what could have caused the fire. That’s when we discovered a tree had blown over onto the power lines, which must have caused a spark or electric current which ignited the flames.
The firefighters said it was a good thing I was directing them since they weren’t entirely sure which way to go, and probably would have missed the turn without my pointing the way.
The enthusiastic wind storm kept blowing the coals back to life, and the fire trucks made several more passes through the property putting out little fires as they re-ignited.
They also called the power company to come out and restore power, which had been interrupted by the tree leaning on the line, to the neighborhood.
Once the power company showed up, the fire trucks left. I hung around for a while longer to make sure nothing else was burning. Sure enough, after a little while I found a smoldering log. Then a little patch of wood chips started burning, then a stick over in some bushes.
Lee brought some water up and he and I went around putting out the little fires as they came up. We put out about a dozen smoldering fires over the next couple of hours before it was all over. We kept an eye on it and made sure nothing else burned for a couple of hours before leaving the scene. While we put out the little fires, the wind blew down another huge branch from a dead tree a few dozen yards away from us.
Here’s a video of the fire and one of the smoldering logs afterward:
I’m thankful we saw the fire when we did and that the fire department responded quickly and that nothing was damaged other than an acre or two of dry grass. It could have easily burned at least one home, maybe two, plus several vehicles and the trees on our property and, if it had spread to the other end of the property, would have burned down our storage shed, motorhome, and more.
Luckily the earthbag walls of the house we’re building are fireproof, so it’s unlikely we would have lost much of that hard work—though the utility room roof could have burned and the papercrete might have smoldered off. Fortunately the fire never got that far.
And that’s the exciting news for this week! Lately I’ve been working hard on the book, Seven Years Running, and this fire brought back memories of a huge fire (with flames 60 feet into the air) which we experienced a few blocks from our house in Mexico when I was a kid. We’ll be sharing that story and many others in the book, which every day is closer to being done!
I hope your week was exciting in a less traumatic way. Have you ever experienced an out-of-control fire? Share your story in the comments below!
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