Alan and I are no stranger to wildfires threatening us, our home, and our animals. Our Colorado home was within a couple of miles of the Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado late in 2020. As close as that was, it is even scarier to have a wildfire burning along the other side of the fence that contains your horses! That happened to us this past week.
Alan and I were working our way through the Bible study we had missed the previous week. It was mid-afternoon. The phone rang, and it was a neighbor. I thought she was calling to set up a social event, so I didn’t answer the phone as I didn’t want to disturb our Bible study. However, something prompted me to listen to her voice mail…
“There is a fire on Kaibab!” We jumped off the couch and ran to the front door. Across our road, we could see a wall of flames rapidly approaching our neighbor’s home. Alan immediately headed across the street, while I stayed home to make decisions about our home and our animals. The wind was insane, approaching 50-60 mph.
I will describe what happened, and at the end of the post you will find a movie that clearly shows what I have written about. It is unedited in terms of “real time” fear… you will hear my shouts of concern as the flames blew up perilously close to Alan in response to a gust of wind.
Jumping the road
I watched as the flames came within inches of my neighbor’s home. As I panned out with my phone camera, the flames jumped the street and headed northeast along our eastern fenceline. The home to our east has been unoccupied since we bought our place, a scenario quite common in this area. The grass was not mowed and it was over a foot tall.
I put the dogs in the car and headed out the door. I haltered our horses and tied the lead ropes around their neck, and then I put them in their stalls. I was incredibly glad they were wearing their identification tags. I was appalled at how quickly this fire was moving. A few degrees shift in the wind and our home would be on fire. Turning the horses loose was a very real possibility.
Hosing down the fenceline
Alan started hosing down the grass along our fenceline. Our water pressure is not terrific, and you will hear my comments about that on the video. According to Alan, it was far better than what our neighbors have across the street. After I finished securing the horses, I took charge of the hose, spraying the field with one hand and shooting video with my other hand. Alan found a rake and extinguished embers that floated over the fence.
It was Alan that first realized the home immediately next door was on fire. It was abundantly clear that a structure further northeast was exploding in flames. (It turned out to be another unoccupied home.) We could see smoke coming from the home next door. Soon, firefighters were at that location.
A tanker truck was able to extinguish the flames that had persistently threatened our property. Additionally, a neighbor with a tractor created a dirt barrier between the vegetation and our fence. Our pasture was devoid of tall grass thanks to the efforts of our horses; however, there was sufficient fuel to endanger the structures.
The cause of the fire is unknown. What I do know is that it started with a neighbor south and west of us, one street over. It apparently began 5 feet from their propane tank, but how it started is uncertain. Arson is being tossed around, as is incredibly poor judgment in starting a “planned” fire.
The house next door
I walked over to the home next door. The story is that the husband committed suicide there over a decade ago. The wife apparently lives in the Phoenix area, and was there at the time of the suicide. It was surreal. The house is cluttered and appears to be unchanged since the occupant died. Now, in addition to the clutter that was everywhere, the floor is soggy, the roof is destroyed, and insulation falls haphazardly throughout the rooms. The owner has not been here for 10 years, according to what I recently learned from a county sheriff.
As I stood on the driveway of the home next door, I looked west towards our home. This is how close we came to suffering a huge loss ourselves.
Perhaps I sound like a broken record as I advocate for preparing for disaster in advance. But I am here to tell you, this could have gone very differently for us. Alan and I took enormous comfort knowing that, in a pinch, we could simply turn the horses loose. Their emergency identification tags would readily provide the necessary information to get them home safely. We were focused on protecting our property. We didn’t have to think about some last-minute method of identifying our horses.
When I created the emergency tags, I fervently hoped that we would never need them. I don’t want to have a medical emergency on the trail. I don’t want to be separated from my horse on the trail or at camp. I don’t want to be in a situation where turning my horses loose is a very real possibility. But I do want to be prepared in case I am faced with any of those scenarios.
About halfway through the movie you will first hear a gust of wind, and then my frantic shout for Alan to be careful. You can also hear the crackling of the fire in the grass just east of our fence. I hope never to have fire come this close again. It is a terrifying beast.