MINOOK VALLEY AFTER THE DAMAGING FIRE
Since I am now living in Arizona where the record dry heat is causing such serious dangers of life and property in this desert country; plus the terrible deaths of 19 heroes at the Yarnell hills wildfires, I thought I would share an experience some of my family went thru while living in the bush country of Alaska with a fire in the summer of 1990 on Memorial day weekend. Was truly the most hair raising experience I had out there. I don’t think I ever felt so totally out of control with nothing but a creek and towel to fight with in order to put a raging wildfire out. What would we do without firefighters that go around risking their lives all around the country wherever the fires hit?
My life started that Monday like any other day after a holiday weekend. Big family and area friends gathering for bbq fixins with homemade ice cream to top it off. People popping in and out getting away from the city life heading for the open country with all it’s nature and freedoms for the weekend. Of course, everyone enjoying the comraderie, food, and country livin’. In the woods that is always cherished moments spent sharing the good life together.
After everyone heads for home as the next day is a work day for them, the hard work starts for me. That special day, Cara was only one left around to help me cleanup from all the activity and fun while Les and Tom headed over the mountain for Eureka to do some gold mining on a friends claim. Most of my kids had grown up and gone on their own leaving only Cara,18 years old, around while visiting from Anchorage with her baby son, Ira, and a small kitten she had brought out with her.
As you can imagine, there were lots of town people out running around in the woods doing there own thing too. During the weekend, we had heard a couple of 4-wheelers zooming by towards the end of our old road to have an experience on their own fishing, camping and getting away from it all. We were used to that! Seems they stayed the weekend and then headed back out near the same time as our company headed back for town. Of course, we thought nothing further of it.
Around lunch time after working so hard cleaning up things, Cara and I decide to eat our lunch on the front porch of our home cabin. We had just sat down and looked to the north when we started smelling smoke. A gust of wind suddenly sent flames roaring towards us on our land next to the home. We threw our food down and started running towards the fire trying to figure what was going on. Flames were shooting up everywhere from the north in the wind and getting way to close to the cabin. What do you do? Panic at first! We could hardly believe our eyes. What was going on here?
Quickly we tried to get the first grasses that had caught on fire with wet towels but it seemed to be increasing rather than just being something little to put out. We both thought of Les and how we could inform him of our dilemma happening here. Cara thought maybe she could get on one of our horses and ride over the pass to Eureka in order to alert Les for help. The biggest problem being it was breakup & the ice at the creek crossings were breaking up and unstable. Our horses weren’t the best at crossing over ice so scared easily with the unstable footing on the melting ice. Plus Cara was a novice rider. Turns out half way there she couldn’t get the horse to cross so had to come back.
In the meantime, I was back trying to fight off the fire that started whipping around furiously from the chaotic winds that were darting here and there from the fire without rime or reason. After Cara left on the horse, I had laid Ira down on a blanket in the middle of the front room with the his bottle and the little kitten. Hoping they would both go to sleep while I had to fight the fire. Was the only safe thing I could think of.
DAMAGING FIRE ALIVE
I had a couple towels that I kept run to and from the creek to each area and start swinging furiously at the fire so that it would reach the house from any direction. I not only had to save the home cabin but also across the creeks I had our original cabin built, a wranglers cabin, and the big lot that had a barn for the horses with sheds for chickens, rabbits, and our goats. Plus all the equipment we had in order to run our ranch with our horse business of trail riding. I don’t know if I can explain how I felt, acted, hurried around in order to save all we owned with just towels running back and forth to the creek as they got dry from the flames. All I know is I spent 2 hours frantically working to save what I could. Praying loudly for God to protect those things in the barn yard that I just couldn’t save by myself. Three cabins were already more than I could bear physically running to and from. I prayed for Him to protect all the equipment, animals, sheds, explosives that were laying around the barn area as we used propane and diesel for everything. If the fire got ahold of that it would all blow up!
Of course, the main home cabin was most important to me but they all had propane to fuel the lights and stoves. Finally the fire got so close to our home cabin that I had to stop and concentrate keeping the fire away from the propane tanks. I already was exhausted at this point. Praying, crying, yelling, and to say the least falling apart.
As I was running across the creek on our bridge to protect a cabin, my husband came with Tom running past me to start fighting the fire. They had seen the smoke drifting over the mountains towards Eureka and started flying in our ole truck across the creeks that were breaking up and over all those ole pot holes created on our dirt road by the winter snows and thaw. At that moment when they came, I was ready to quit from exhaustion. I had lost hope. Seeing them with all their energy and adrenaline gave me a second wind and renewed my hope inside. So all 4 of us, as Cara had gotten back about same time with the horse, tried our best for the next 3 hours more to fight and save all we had worked so hard to build in the wild back country. We could envision everything we had built for 17 years go down in smoke in less than a day!!! If they hadn’t come, I know I was ready to stop as I felt I could fight it no more. I was on the verge of getting my grandson, all the animals free and just fleeing down the road to safety til someone came. Does that sound cowardly to you?
We fought saving everything except for one cabin on the far end where the fires had started and propane exploded when all of a sudden while protecting another cabin on that far end by the creek we started seeing smoke jumpers floating down in the sky. Awesome! We couldn’t really believe we had some help in our fight. We stopped momentarily, me in the creek handing up water to Les while he would run with the buckets to throw on the cabin to save it. I truly wish I had a camera or movie camera in my hand to record that beauty we saw floating down. Our hope surged. Help!!!!
All of a sudden they surrounded us insisting that we stop, take a break, and let them handle it from there. You know, that is hard to do when all you have is burning away but they insisted and we backed off. I can’t explain the hope and prayers that seemed to take shape when they took over. It took them two weeks to get that large fire than burned BLM land on both sides of us and also native land between us and Rampart. I can’t remember the amount of acres it burned in all but it was no small amount. Two weeks is a long time to fight one fire. I should mention that my prayers did play out as God did protect things in the barn yard that I couldn’t even begin to battle flames. It was like He spread out His mighty hand. The propane tank pile, equipment, fuel tanks, sheds, etc were all protected with just fingers of fire burn in between. Like a mighty hand! Sure uplifted me in my knowledge of His great protection in my hour of need!!!!
BBQ GIVEN FOR FIREFIGHTERS BEFORE THEY LEFT
I cannot sing enough praises for the hard work, the care they extended for our wishes about our property, their danger they endured, and yet when left cleaned their area up like they had never lived all around our grounds in order to keep fighting this massive fire. The BLM had put together an extensive operation of control in order to fight this interior fire of the north country. Even hiring my daughter, Cara, during it all. Yes it was like grand central station to us with all these people and government saving the country side but I give them extreme praise for all they did.
Are you wondering how the fire did get started after all I mentioned and the investigation of that fire? Maybe some have figured it out. The fire was caused by the 2 military couples on those 4-wheelers that came out for their camping fun over the holidays. Yes they put out their campfire but most city people don’t realize if they don’t put water on it then it smolders underneath in the tundra, spreads, and then finally gets enough energy to explode firing up into a big blaze. People just don’t realize a fire doesn’t just stay on top and that dry conditions create its own issues.
I have great respect and fear of fire. It is unstoppable in its fury and gobbling up of fuel in its path. Fire just helps fuel it all with dry conditions. The wilderness is full of dead things to feast on. Winds just enhance the darting and fury of its power. I have never seen the kinds of wind that fire creates of its own. Man power and these mighty airplanes that can drop their retardant fluid are all that can attack the open country when it takes off. It truly is a sacrifice for all concerned. Not to think of how many lives are changed by human careless acts or of nature especially dry lightning.
I am not for the government letting fires burn out. It destroys way too much land as it doesn’t just clean things up, it sterilizes the ground. I would rather they let people clean up areas that have down falls or shrubs that are a danger. Timber is useful firewood. It takes years for a forest to rebuild. People and government regulate miners when in truth miners only open up an area so things can grow. It doesn’t sterilize the ground or seeds. Instead for Alaska & other cold places it warms up the ground by clearing it and allows the ground cover, fruit shrubs, and trees to start growing which feeds animals as well as us. Ground is then more productive. People should open their eyes to the damages caused by open burning till it burns out. Environmentalists don’t always have all things in check on what is happening around them. There is always more to the picture of what nature is doing.
Later after all settled down from our experience, during the winter I wrote an article giving these unsung heroes praise in the magazine ‘ALASKAN MEN’ that was so popular at that time. That is a magazine of bachelors looking for women to marry. I convenced the magazine that lots of them were bachelors in that firefighter world and their story needed to be told with lots of praise. I think the government and the firefighters were very happy concerning how I wrote about them and what they do. They truly are heroes!!! I can never sing their praises enough. I truly am sorry this Arizona fire took the lives of so many courageous and worthy men!!!!!
GROWTH AFTER FIRE FIRST YEAR
It took many many years for things to grow back around our homestead. With its cold winters and permafrost conditions nothing could grow very fast. Until then we lived with blackness all around. Talk about ruining our pristine valley and mountains. We did use a lot of it for firewood so that it would clean it out. Since it burned half of our land, we decided to divide half our land into 5 acre lots that Les used equipment to clean up for plots for their homes and drive-ways. Made the area prettier and gave some people a chance to make themselves recreational living in the woods. So goes the saga of one families plight with fire!!!