Last Wednesday afternoon the fire alarm in our little town went off. I was on my break from work and the people with me didn’t seem too concerned so I didn’t get overly concerned. Apparently it could have been a false alarm. Moments later someone informed me that the fire was west of town and “headed for Sopranos’*”(this is the last name of my sister’s boyfriend). The fire was rumored to have started in the R.M (county) over and because of the 80km /hr (50mph) wind it was on a rampage and headed right for Tony’s* yard. Honestly, my heart stopped. Not because I am overly fond of my sister’s boyfriend’s yard, but because I am overly fond of my sister… and this would really hurt her if it were true. She was at work… until 8pm that night and she wouldn’t know anything if someone didn’t call her. So, despite the warnings of my coworker, I called her to let her know. She was grateful and we decided that I would make sandwiches and pack up some other food and water then she would pick me up on her way out to the fire so I could be her rock, her shoulder. (And the food was clearly for the hungry men who had been fighting fire all afternoon… and likely on into the night). Being eight months pregnant… sandwiches, water and a shoulder to lean on… is pretty much all that I was able to offer.
E arrived at the school, we packed up her vehicle and took off like bandits towards a prairie sky blazing with smoke and fire. If it hadn’t been threatening the livelihood and home of my family I would have taken the time to awe in its beauty as the sun was beginning to lower in the sky behind the smoke, creating a glowing red colour that was absolutely terrifying and stunning all at once. We got to Tony’s yard (much to the protests of some local men we met along the yard who figured they knew the way to the fire) and switched everything over into a vehicle more appropriately designed for handling the rough terrain we were about the endure, stopped to talk to some men and fire trucks in the yard to find out more, and then took off looking for fire and people who needed our supplies.
I have never witnessed a forest fire… considering I live in the bald, flat, prairies where if you spot a tree.. chances are someone planted it… but I can only dream of the horror that would go with it. This fire… this prairie grass fire… was equally as terrifying. With the combination of 80km/hr winds and pure, uninterrupted, grassy bliss… the fire was unstoppable. People who tried to get in front of it and slow it down were chased out. The fire had a mind of its own and was set on devouring land and anything else that got in its way. We soon learned that there were two strains to the fire, as people who began working alongside the fire to put out any hot spots and prevent it from flaring up again, were soon surrounded by a new blaze and had to water down the ground around the truck and get in and wait it out… praying they didn’t get enveloped in flames, or poisoned by smoke fumes.
Now, the role that E and I ended up playing was important… but it is not what I need to share with you. These men… all of these men (there must have been close to 200)… were there because they knew someone needed them. Not one single one of these men… not ONE.. was being paid to be there. They bravely marched around with shovels, and gunny sacks and backpack water sprayers, and fought in the smoke and the heat and the awfully terrifyingness of it all… because they had big hearts. Men with large four-wheel drive tractors and double discs drove miles and miles and miles to get to the ranch, and then drove even further on land that had likely never been touched by the tread of a john deere tractor (or any other tractor for that matter) and drove right alongside the fire, plowing up dirt and sand and grass… making a fireguard that would hopefully at least slow the intensity of the blaze. And on the other side of those fireguards, waited people with their shovels and their brave faces… daring the fire to cross… as they had ever intention of taking their last stand there and refusing to allow the fire to gain one more acre. It was….. heartwarming.. and I found myself amazing by the sheer generosity of people. Men drove literally… 40+ miles to get to the fire and attempt to stop its damages. At midnight we met my neighbour and her daughter who had a truck full of bag lunches and beverages to replenish the crews… and yet another vehicle full of beer to quench the thirst.
Eventually, the wind died down and the fire was easier to fight… by 6am, it was pretty much completely out… and there were barely any people there anymore (I had left at 2am… come on… preggo bellies can only ride around in a truck on bumpy ground for so long)… ANd so Tony and E and whoever else was there caught some sleep before going on fire patrol to make sure none of the places flared up again. Meanwhile, I showered and attempted to get the awful smell out of my clothes, my hair, my porch, and Paul’s truck… because it was clinging to everything with a last-ditch effort to take over. And as tired as I was the next day, all I could think about was how proud I am to live in a place where people can give so much of themselves to someone and they don’t expect a thing in return… except maybe a bottle of beer… and a sandwich.