Saturday, January 9, 2016

Chapter 22: Prairie Fire

"One day Laura and Mary were helping Ma get dinner. Baby Carrie was playing on the floor in the sunshine, and suddenly the sunshine was gone.

'I do believe it is going to storm,' Ma said, looking out the window. Laura looked, too, and great black clouds were billowing up in the south, across the sun."

It is spring on the prairie. The snow has melted away and as far as Laura can see, the hills are covered with long, dry prairie grass. Pa has harnessed Pet and Patty to the breaking-plow. He works all day turning over long rows of rich prairie sod. Pa says this year he will plant sod potatoes and sod corn in the thick strips of sod and by next year roots will all be rotted away and he will have beautiful plowed fields to seed.

Every day Laura sees more and more Indians. They are gathering for their big spring hunts. Sometimes they come by the house and Ma always gives them food or tobacco. She doesn't want the Indians to be angry. 

Jack is kept tied up all the time because he still doesn't like Indians coming to the house and Pa is worried he will bite one and make trouble.

One bright afternoon Pa is turning over more sod in the field and Ma is getting dinner. Laura and Mary are helping like the good little girls they are. But something funny happens. All of the sudden, the sunshine goes away. 

Ma looks out the window and sees dark clouds rising up to cover the sun. She thinks it's going to storm, but then they see Pet and Patty running towards the house, with Pa leaping along behind them.

"Prairie fire," Pa shouts

Ma runs to the well and begins filling the big tub with water. Pa ties up the horses and brings the cow and calf up to the stable. Laura runs to gather up the sacks that Pa had thrown out of the stable.

Pa is plowing now, as fast as he can, yelling at Pet and Patty to go faster. The fire is coming closer and closer as Pa plows a long furrow up the west side of the homestead, across the south, and down the east. Ma has the tub of water full now, and Pa helps her carry it to his furrow.

Laura watches as Pa starts a fire on the other side of the long furrow. He wants it to burn towards the fire and make a safe area around the house. Ma follows along behind with her wet sacks, beating out any fire that tries to cross the line.

Rabbits, prairie chickens, and snakes hurry across the yard, running away from the prairie fire. Jack doesn't care---he knows a great danger is coming and stares at the fire.

Pa's fire grows and stretches away from the house. The prairie fire roars and rushes. Then the two of them meet and the sky is filled with smoke, wind, and noise. All Laura can see is fire all around her.

And then the fire is past. 

Pa and Ma put out any little fires that got started in the yard. She tells Laura and Mary not to worry. "All's well that ends well."

Laura watches as the little prairie gophers stick their heads back out of their holes and look around the burned, black prairie. Later the birds fly overhead, then the rabbits began to hop by, and finally the snakes and prairie hens come back.

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Scott come to check on the Ingalls family. They are worried the Indians started the fire to try to hurt the settlers, but Pa knows that the Indians have always done this in the spring. The fire burns the old grass and makes room for the new grass to grow. Soon the whole prairie will be green again and the buffalo will come.

Thoughts:  You might think that since it's been over two years since I last posted, I've been working hard on a really amazing post.

You might think that, but you'd be wrong.

I simply fell victim to a common, but life-altering condition. I got a job.

It turns out that working actually takes up quite a bit of spare time. Who would have thought? But even as the months turned into years, it was always my goal to get back to this blog someday. I still haven't read all the way through the book series, and I'm not about to stop now!

So here I am, with an important message of fire safety. Wildfire preparedness, to be exact.

"Prairie fire!" Pa shouted. "Get the tub full of water! Put sacks in it! Hurry!" 

The time to get ready for a ready for a wildfire is before the fire, of course. Fires can move at an amazing speed, leaving you very little time to react. There are certain steps anyone can take to help their home survive in a wildfire situation. For this post, I decided to go over some of these steps and see how my own house rates. You can find more information here .

Would my house survive a prairie wildfire?

(Spoiler alert: No.)

The biggest survival factor for any home in a wildfire situation is defensible space. This is an area around the home that is kept free of fire fuels, weakening the fire before it comes close to your home, and giving fire fighters an area to fight from. In a fire situation, if your home is clearly not defend-able, fire fighters will conserve resources by moving on to those homes they have some hope of saving.

What is defensible space?

It is broken up into 3 zones. Zone 1 is closest to the house and reaches out at least 15 feet---more if there are hills or heavy fire fuels surrounding the home. This area needs to be kept clear of anything that will burn easily. Bushes should be kept trimmed and away from the house. Trees are a risk, but if you have them, they should be kept right up next to the house, all the overhanging and dead branches should be trimmed off, and all other trees should be kept far away from them so fire can't spread from tree to tree.


I think some of those branches might be considered "overhanging".

Just a little.

"Pa's little fire was all around the house now, and he helped Ma fight it with the wet sacks. The fire blew wildly, snatching at the dry grass inside the furrow. Pa and Ma thrashed at it with the sacks, when it got across the furrow they stamped it with their feet. They ran back and forth in the smoke, fighting the fire"

Grass is supposed to be kept well watered and always trimmed. I guess I get half a point here because my grass is currently covered with snow. Never mind how long it was in the summer. It's not summer now, is it?

I do have a little bit of open space around the house, but at no point do I ever reach the minimum of 15 feet, let alone the recommended 30. I also have shrubs, flammable structures, and my propane tank all located too close for Zone 1.

Maybe I'll do better in Zone 2.

 Well, actually no.

"The prairie fire was roaring now, roaring louder and louder in the screaming wind. Great flames came roaring, flaring and twisting high. Twists of flame broke loose and came down on the wind to blaze up in the grasses far ahead of the roaring wall of fire."

Zone 2 is all about reducing dry, dead fuels under your trees. Ladder fuels are things fire can use to climb from the grasses up into the tree tops. Any shrubs, long  grass, and dead branches should be cleared out from under all trees in Zone 2. Trees are also supposed to be spaced so there is at least 10 feet of open space between the crowns of the trees.

 I'm pretty sure the whole "branches completely intertwined down the entire tree row thing" doesn't meet the specifications. Not to mention the long grass, shrub, dead tree limb landscaping theme I've got going on.

I do have one thing kind of right in Zone 2. I don't have a wood pile because I don't have a wood stove, but my burn pile IS located more then 30 feet from the house.

Zone 3 begins 100 feet from all structures. That's pretty much off my property and has no trees at all, so I guess I win that one.

"Pa said that the fire had not missed them far, but a miss is as good as a mile."

Boom. Prairie wildfire preparedness.

Does anyone know the name of a good insurance agent?