Prairie Fire!

by Heidi M. Thomas

Prairie firePhoto courtesy http://askabiologist.asu.edu

Lightning strikes, a glow forms on the horizon, the smell of smoke wafts on the wind. Prairie Fire!

This scenario strikes fear in the hearts of ranchers everywhere, and this fear was realized recently in eastern Montana near where I grew up. The Lodgepole Complex Fire near Sand Springs eventually encompassed 270,000 acres, burned miles of grazing land, haystacks, outbuildings, and killed some livestock.

Here in north-central Arizona, where I now live, the Goodwin Fire in June also devastated 28,000 acres, closed a main highway, and evacuated residents for several days.

In my new novel, Seeking the American Dream, I have a fictionalized composite scene of this feared wrath of Mother Nature, when Neil and the neighbors battle a prairie fire on their ranch and Anna fears they will lose their home.

praire fireline

Photo courtesy weebly.com

Excerpt From: Seeking the American Dream

As they approached within ten miles of the ranch, yet another huge bolt of lightning crashed into the earth along the horizon. Anna thought she saw flames flicker in the distance.

“Prairie fire.” Neil punched the accelerator to the floor. Then, nothing, just the blackness of the night sky.

Anna breathed a small sigh of relief. Maybe it had been a reflection of the lightning strike against the clouds.

A sudden gust of wind stirred the stillness in the air, and dust swirled in the headlights. Then flames leaped again from the same spot. Anna gasped. In minutes the hillside glowed and smoke rose as the dried grass caught and the fire spread.

“Is it…it isn’t our place, is it?” Anna couldn’t breathe with the fear that gripped her.

“It won’t come our way.” Neil’s voice was firm with conviction, but his knuckles turned white around the wheel…

***

It was only a half-mile from their house. Anna heard the flames crackle. Her nose closed and her eyes watered from the astringent smoke.

“I’m going to get the tractor and plow a firebreak.” Neil jumped out of the car. “You’ll have to carry buckets of water and wet down the roof, in case it heads this way.”

Anna ran to the house, carrying Monica who now screamed in fright. “Honey, it’s okay.” Anna tried to control her quavering voice. “Here, you can lie down in Mama’s bed and look at these books. I have to go to the well and get some water. You stay right here.”

“No, Mommy. You stay.” Monica sobbed and clutched at Anna’s neck.

“Honey, you’re all right. Mommy will be right back. Look at the book. It’s your favorite, see? Three Little Pigs.” She tucked the blanket around her daughter’s shoulders. Oh, please stay put. Dear Lord, watch over her.

SeekingAmericanDream_1.5x2Anna grabbed the drinking bucket from the kitchen cupboard and ran out into the wind. Her skirts whipped around her legs and her hair lashed her face. She pumped a bucketful of water. Now, where was the ladder? She scuttled toward the house, crablike, grasping the heavy bucket in both hands, water sloshing down her dress. It would take forever to wet down the roof. She had to find a faster way. What do I do? Anna looked wildly around and focused on the galvanized bathtub. She pulled it around the side of the house and ran to the granary, where she found the ladder and an armload of gunnysacks. She dragged the ladder to the house, then went back for the sacks. Throwing them into the tub, she dumped the bucket of water on top and ran for another.

The fire thrust intense orange, hungry fingers high against the inky sky and rode the crest of the hill on the other side of the county road. Anna’s eyes stung from the smoke haze. Her throat ached. Vehicles with their tanks of water in the back sprayed the flames. Someone had joined Neil with another tractor, plowing a firebreak. The men looked like black stick figures silhouetted in the wavering glow that lit the sky like a sunrise. The heat flushed Anna’s face.

She grasped several soaked gunnysacks, climbed the ladder, and spread them over the roof. Between trips, she ran into the house to make sure Monica stayed put, terrified she would wander outside to find her mommy. The little girl whimpered, but lay in the big bed, wide-eyed, holding a book to her chest. It was as if she sensed the danger and knew this was a safe place.

“Good girl. Just stay there, Mama is right outside.”

One eye on the fire, Anna climbed up and down the ladder, her pink dancing dress now stained and wet. Then she felt the wind on her face and watched in horror as it switched direction. As if sprouting glowing wings, the fire jumped the road. Now it was headed their way.

She watched the men struggle to turn the fire. Just as they started another fire line, the wind gave a violent push and the fire jumped over. Men beat at the burning brush and grass with wet gunnysacks, trying to contain the spread. The wildfire twisted and turned, a living entity, consuming the dry prairie grasses.

Anna twisted her ruined skirt in one fist. This couldn’t be happening. Would they lose their pastureland and their house, too?

Seeking the American Dream is the first in the “American Dream” series, the next generation of the Moser family we met in the “Cowgirl Dreams” series. This book is based on my mother who emigrated from Germany after WWII. The book is available autographed from my website or through Amazon.

 

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: