Fire on the Hill: A Big Thank You to All the People and Fire Departments Who Saved Jane's House and Barn in the Fall of 2014
2014 was an unusual year for us. We had no rain all summer followed by a sudden wind and brief rainstorm after harvest that tore off the roof from our drying garlic. With the remaining garlic crop in the barn we thought we were done with Mother Nature's whims for this year. However, we had one more surprise - wildfire.
Picture: Firefighters spray a large blaze on Jane's hill. The fire eventually burned a total of 50-80 acres.
Fire on the Hill
Down the road a neighbor's combine caught their field on fire. Due to the extremely dry conditions the fire spread quickly. It jumped across the road and blazed on both sides of the road. Thick smoke rolled over the fields causing the barren garlic field to turn blood red. That and the smell of fresh burning was what first alerted us to the problem swiftly moving our way.
The fire quickly roared through our other neighbor's CRP land behind Jane's farm. Jane's barn and house is at the bottom of a steep slope. The fire than begin moving down the whole hill in a smoky sheet of crackling red towards her buildings and house.
Picture: Just a small number of the emergency responders who swiftly and fearlessly fought the blaze.
At this point Jane, Steve and Susan figured the whole place was going up in flames. The flames were moving rapidly and we could hear crackling as ponderous pines on the hill went up in huge plumes of fire. We gathered family photos, business records and the the dogs and cats in Jane's car and sent her across the bridge. She remained there ready to release the cows if the fire spread. Numerous neighbors also stopped there to watch the blaze and talk to Jane.
Picture: Fire engines lights and smoke show on the top of the ridge.
Emergency Responders Roll
At this time the first fire engines begin to roll in. Susan pointed the first one to the best way up to the top of the hill. After that numerous fire engines begin spreading out on the top and bottom of the hill. Luckily for us, a large number of volunteer fire districts and firefighters showed up.
Firefighters and emergency responders from Albion, Palouse, Diamond, Pullman, Uniontown, Colfax, Steptoe, Colton, Garfield and Whitman County Districts 4, 11 and 12. In addition, water trucks flooded in from these areas and several local granges.
Picture: A portion of the burnt hillside above our barn. Due to the slope this was a tough fire to fight. We were pretty impressed by everyone running up and down this steep slope carrying fire hoses and heavy equipment.
It was so dangerous that several fire hose were burned; meaning the fire was between the fire fighters and their truck. Note how close it got to the buildings!
Note: we still trying to find out which fire departments, emergency responders and people responded; there were so many that we may have missed several. They saved not only our farm but also stopped the fire at a neighbor's house. Most importantly, their efforts prevented this fire from getting out of control. It has been so dry here that this fire could have easily gotten totally out of control.
The Fire's Turning Point
Picture: The Ponderosa pine that caught on fire which the wind put out. The top is burned but the one side is still green!
The main turning point of the fire came after the flames rolled down the hill. The wind had been blowing down from the top of the ridge causing fast fire movement. Suddenly a large Ponderosa pine caught on fire. As the flames crackled on the top of the tree it looked like the fire was posed to jump to a large grove of highly flammable pine trees near the bottom of the hill. At that point even the firefighters begin to move back.
As Jane watched the tree burn she saw a gust of wind swirl around the pine putting out the flames from the bottom up. The wind changed directions and begin to blow back towards the already burnt area of the hill. This allowed the fire fighters to get the blaze under control.
Picture: A fire roasted apple from one of our charred apple trees.
In addition, several neighbor grabbed their tractors and disked to stop the spreading flames in the nearby fields.
After the main fire was out; small areas continued to burst into flames for three more days. Several fire trucks stayed that night to put out smoldering areas. Jane made a point of wandering the property sniffing for smells of smoke! Needless to say she was a little paranoid about flame. I'll be adding more fire photos to this page later.
Picture: Charred trees mark the hill's summit.
All of us at Grey Duck Garlic and our families would like to thank all the wonderful people and departments that responded to this fire. Jane, Steve and Susan had the privilege of watching them work. We were very impressed by their energy and fearlessness as they fought the swiftly moving blaze. Many were volunteer fire fighters and emergency responders who donate their time to help protect their neighbors. Please support your local emergency responders! We also would like to thank our neighbors who helped in different ways.