If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve been seeing my posts about what’s happening where I live in south central Kansas. If you don’t, here’s the deal …
Monday afternoon, we were alerted to a large wildfire burning just a few miles to the east of our homestead. It was a big fire, fueled by that good old Kansas wind and the tinderbox of pasture ground that we live in because of an almost 9 year-long drought.
We were pretty worried, as the fire was not but just a couple miles from our property border, and the wind was blowing pretty hard. Fortunately, our volunteer fire crews were able to bring the blaze under control and put it out by very early Tuesday morning.
But by later that morning, another fire, one that had started in northern Oklahoma, had spread north into Kansas, igniting our Gyp Hills in 2 counties. One of which is the county where I was born, raised, and live today. And, people, this fire was B.I.G.
As the day wore on, we watched the smoke clouds billow into the air out west. We watched social media closely for updates. We watched the wind speed increase from strong to gusty to gale force. We prayed.
Late in the afternoon, smoke choked us, even indoors. Word began to circulate that the highways near our town were being closed down because the fire was closing in and visibility was poor. More information was released, announcing the evacuation of some of the small towns in our county – the fire was growing in size and strength and fire crews could not contain it. At one point, the fire line was over 30 miles long and the head was estimated as being 4 miles wide. It was crossing the highway and headed straight for us, propelled by 50+ mph winds straight out of the west.
A friend who works in the Sheriff’s office texted me and told me to pack a bag and get ready to evacuate – the fire was on our road, just a mile or two away. Of course, husband of mine had gone out to drive around and look around so I was home alone with 4 kids and a dog, trying to decide what to pack and what to leave behind.
Shoes – check; fake credit card for the toddler – check; pants – who needs those?
When the hubs finally returned, I was … upset. He assured me that we were safe. We would wait a while before evacuating because the wind was supposed to be shifting around and it would blow the fire back away from us. I wasn’t crazy about this plan, but I wasn’t crazy about the evacuation thing, either.
In the waiting time, he and our 15 year old son went out and sprayed the house and surrounding area with water. My husband climbed onto the roof to watch the fire. The wind had not only shifted, it had also gotten much colder – he came in twice to add layers. He determined that it wasn’t coming any closer, but said he would stay up through the night, watching.
He made a fresh pot of coffee and settled in with one of his Kung Fu movies.
I tried to stay up with him, checking Facebook, news outlets – anywhere I could find information on our friends and neighbors who were in the path of the fire. I was half-crazed with fear and worry. By 11:30, I couldn’t stand it any longer and I went to bed, thinking I’d never be able to get to sleep.
I was wrong. I won’t say I slept long, but I was able to sleep until my husband came to bed around 5:00 and started snoring – likely due to all the smoke he’d inhaled going out to check the fire’s status all night long. I didn’t kick him and poke him to roll over like I usually would. I just got up and shut the door quietly behind me so he could sleep. I’m a good wife that way. 😉
It was still dark so I couldn’t see if there was smoke or not. But I couldn’t smell smoke as strongly and I couldn’t see any glow from the fire outside so I was hopeful that the fire had been contained or put out overnight. I went about my morning routine – make the coffee, feed the doggie, check the Facebook & Tumblr & Pinterest, make the chocolate mudslide oatmeal (so delicious!) …
When it was late enough, I called my parents to make sure they were okay. My dad said he heard on the news that the fire was contained and crews were just managing a few hot spots. We discussed things a little longer before I hung up and went for another cup of coffee. It had been a short, unrest-ful night.
Shortly after, my cell beeped with a notification from the county sheriff’s department, which told me that the fire was 0% contained and that there were over 7,000 homes, commercial properties and other outbuildings being threatened by this fire. It was also mentioned that the fire had consumed more than 169,000 acres in our county alone. I don’t know what my dad was watching, but I sure hope it isn’t his primary source of information …
I called my parents back – this time I got my mom – to let them know their information was slightly erroneous. Again, more discussion, more coffee.
I posted to my Facebook account:
Good morning y’all. We are safe. The fire came within a mile or two of our home last night, but by the Grace of God it came no closer. This morning, the sky is clearer but only because the wind has shifted yet again and is blowing the smoke away from us. The fire is 0% contained and continues to rage over 169,000 acres of Barber County. So far, two families have lost their homes and countless others have lost livestock, pasture land and outbuildings. The damage is staggering. Our fire crews are beyond exhausted but are still fighting to bring this blaze under control.
I am not ashamed to tell y’all that I was completely terrified last night. I was born right here in this little town and I don’t believe there has ever been such a frightening event to take place here – at least in my lifetime. The wind is still blowing very strongly – although not nearly as strong as yesterday, thank God. And the fire has apparently surrounded our town, though I don’t believe it’s in immediate danger at this time.
Thank you so much for all your prayers and well wishes, y’all. Our community has come together, as it always does in times of need, but your prayers are still so needed. Pray for our fire fighters and all those who are still threatened by the fire. Pray for rain and a cessation of the wind. Pray for those who have lost property. Pray for our community to be able to withstand this disaster. Love and blessings to each of you!
As of this writing, only about 15% of the total fire has been contained. It has taken over 240,000 acres of Barber County land, 2 homes, untold barns, outbuildings and power poles and livestock.
The loss of livestock is heartbreaking. For most of us who ranch for a living, these animals are more than our livelihood – they are part of our family. Additionally, the destruction of wildlife and habitat is creating an imbalance in nature. There have been numerous reports of coyotes roaming the streets of town, looking for food because their food sources have been burned out.
The wind died down this afternoon, but is expected to pick up and blow hard again tomorrow – 25 to 30 mph with gusts up to 35 mph. Any fires still burning will be harder to control and extinguish with the wind whipping them about. Fire crews from all over our state and Oklahoma have come to help, but they are all worn down and exhausted. There is no rain or precipitation of any kind in the forecast.
But as I said, the community is pulling together and showing incredible generosity, kindness, and resiliency. There have been so many volunteers donating time and food to feed the firefighters and emergency workers. People have brought loads of hay to feed surviving cattle and horses displaced by the fire. Such an outpouring of support and love is heartwarming and really redeems my faith in people.
My family and our home are safe. Unless the blaze renews overnight or tomorrow with the winds, we should stay that way. So many others are not as fortunate, so I ask that you continue to pray for all of Barber County. And I thank you for all the prayers and thoughts already offered. We appreciate them more than words can express.
This has been such a frightening experience – one I hope we never have to go through again. What I’ve learned is that people can surprise you with their kindness. And that I should never take a boring life for granted. And that I definitely need a more organized emergency evacuation plan for my family. :-/
Hope to be back next time with a more uplifting post. Maybe a delish recipe or a fun DIY project. For now, I’m just going to work on getting the smoky smell out of my house.
Love & Blessings,
That Farm Mama