Saved by the Cavalry firefighters from three counties
July 13, 2023
To the Editor
As we stood in the front yard looking at a fleet of fire trucks and water trucks from three counties this afternoon, I was filled with deep gratitude and admiration for the crews that showed up to stamp out the wheat fire that had, just minutes before, come within 50 yards of my house. Jake Adams – Captain of the volunteer Columbia Walla Walla Fire District #2 stationed in Waitsburg, was first on the scene, along with my neighbor farmer and friend, Bill Frazier.
The wheat fire that started by my house this afternoon looked small as I drove by it on my way home from Walla Walla. I texted my neighbor, Bill Frazier, to be sure he knew about the fire. He called me right back, and we chatted briefly about it. The fire seemed adjacent to our properties but closer to Hart Road than our backyards. I failed to factor in the strong southwesterly wind this afternoon.
After Bill drove to check things out, he returned a few minutes later, banging urgently on my front door.
"It's right on your doorstep. Do you have any sprinklers?" I was shocked to see how close the fire had moved as smoke poured down the hill behind my house. I turned on all the sprinklers I could find, wishing I had more and was better prepared (notes to self were taken).
When Jake Adams arrived, he watched the fire from the back property line as it came rolling down the hill, eating the wheat as it roared toward Bill's machine shed and my house. After tracking the fire, wind direction, and speed, Jake said, "Take your animals and get out of here." A sentence that seemed more from a movie than my actual life.
I ran inside and alternated between frantically loading bags full of clothes, shoes, musical instruments, laptops, and important papers; and running outside to see what was happening. How powerless it felt at that moment. Gus, my yellow Labrador, kept following me inside and out. Molly, my black Labrador, was on her bed in the living room, confident we would figure it all out. I was not.
Joining Bill on the property line, having gathered the dogs and important stuff, the smoke was so thick it looked like a thunderstorm was passing over. Bill said he wished he could plow a fire break, but his tractor was harvesting other fields. We both stood silent for a minute, watching the distance close between the fire and our property lines. Suddenly, as if from a movie, a tractor came barreling over the hill through the smoke faster than I have ever seen a tractor move. It fishtailed around the curves, cutting a fire break in the wheat a few yards from where we stood. Cavalry! Howard Smith Jr. and/or his crew sure can drive a mean tractor. The tractor disappeared into the smoke, emerging on the other side, cutting a widening fire break between the burning field and my house. It then circled Bill's machine shed. Seriously. Amazing.
I noticed that my driveway had filled with fire and water trucks. Second cavalry! Crews came from everywhere– Waitsburg, Prescott, Walla Walla, College Place, Columbia County, and even Franklin County. There could have been other crews, but those stand in my memory.
There were close to twenty firefighters who answered the call. Focused and professional. They got the fire under control within the hour. At one point, I looked towards the hilltop across Lower Waitsburg Road to see a fire truck standing vigil, surveying the scene. Calm competence was evident at every turn from everyone I observed.
I don't know how many acres burned. Lots of dust still to settle. Chuck and I were thinking of grilling this evening. Instead, we are heading out for a beer. We left the sprinklers running.