Story & Photos by Beth Gibbons Crawford, Neb.

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September 22, 2012
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Faces of fire


Fire! Fire! This was the word on everyone’s lips and constantly on the radio, who kept the country informed of where and when the fire was burning. Lightening was striking in several places and each resulted in another blazing fire.

Wild fire is a dangerous natural disaster that can occur when dry conditions mix with lighting. The beautiful pine clad trees of Western Nebraska Panhandle were assaulted with a series of bright lighting strikes beginning on Tuesday, August 29, 2012.

The day started calmly, except as I hung clothes on the line, my dog insisted on darting inside, running to the farthest bedroom. She did this three times which was strange, for she’s ordinarily a contented outside dog. By evening there was smoke billowing among the tall buttes on three sides of my land and country home as with many others.

I just knew if fire topped over the buttes east of me there would be no stopping it. I am bordered on several sides by tall un-grazed grasses and large pine trees. Here was a natural catastrophe waiting to happen.

The smoke got more ominous as the day progressed. At 12:30 a.m. the day before, my daughter called to tell me she’d received orders to pack and evacuate. She, a young widow, brought her 8-year-old and their pets to my house early the next morning; they were evacuated and very frightened as they could see flames in trees across the road from them near Chadron State Park. I called my sons and my cattle renter to alert them of fire dangers.

The deputy sheriff drove in about mid day strongly suggesting that I prepare to evacuate ‘now.’ Soon a county crew came in with a big machine requesting permission to cut my fence and blade around my home. The cattle and two horses ran afraid and free. My family soon helped box up pictures from the walls and cabinets. My oldest son quickly disconnected my computer and loaded it in my car. Some boxes were loaded in the pickup. We began to lose track of days and kept continually watching the fires and rising smoke. My daughter and grand-daughter and I were evacuated to my son’s house with his wife and daughter by Friday evening, driving past many burning trees and seeing huge blazes rising in the distance.

When fire came over the buttes my sons called and said that we were to stay put while they fought fires and watched the home buildings. My two sons and a grandson-in-law were staying on my place helping fight fires that raged through the hills and blew flames across our land. They kept the blazes to the east of a fire line which was between the house and buildings. They did a great job along with hundreds of fire fighters from throughout the U.S. The guys from Minnesota and New Mexico stayed, saying they’d be patrolling throughout the nights to keep the fire down.

We soon learned there were firefighters from all over the U.S. helping defend our part of this picturesque Pine Ridge country from the wind crazed wildfires. Despite this help it was nerve wrecking to see all the pine covered hills covered with what looked like city lights at night. The fire and smoke continued with firefighters helping keep our homes safe. Nearly 88,000 acres were burned in the ensuing days. My grandson was out helping his father and neighbors then after very little rest he was called by the National Guard to help another nearby fire. When he finally got home his little red headed 17-month-old son did not recognize his Daddy.

We are counting our blessings that fires were not worse than they were. Many lost hay bales, wild grass, fences and trees. No lives were lost to the fire. The roads have quieted and firefighters have left for home or to fight fires somewhere else.

The tree covered buttes are black waiting for rain to regenerate for another year. It will no doubt take years for the trees to grow back. Many are completely destroyed as are fence posts. ❖




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The Fence Post Updated Sep 22, 2012 04:00AM Published Oct 15, 2012 11:51AM Copyright 2012 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.