May morning after rain

May morning after rain

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Smoke Signals

Best laid plans can go up in smoke. Literally.

Last week, we attempted to burn off Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grasses on some of our rented ground. Part of maintaining CRP ground requires caretakers to burn off or disc the native grasslands during every 15-year contract and replant with a Forbes mix of grasses.

This particular ground is located just adjacent to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and nestled among other parcels of land owned and used primarily by hunters. So instead of green wheat fields, it's a maze of dry prairie grasses, perfect for attracting deer and turkey.

It's also in a neverland of cell phone coverage at a point in which three counties converge - Stafford, Reno and Rice.

Case in point: When Randy called 911 to get permission for the burn, the call was answered by Rice County dispatchers. However, since the burn was technically in Reno County, they transferred the call there.

By the end of the evening, we'd also be talking to Stafford County emergency dispatchers. But I'm getting ahead of the story.

To prepare for the burn, Randy & Jake used a tractor and disc along the property line to form a fire break.

The evening of the burn, Randy discovered which direction the breeze was blowing by doing a highly scientific test using toilet paper.

Before we started, Randy drew out the plan for the burn on the ground.

I like having a plan, especially when I'm going to be driving a 4-wheeler in dry grasses with Randy lighting fire behind me.

He used this drip torch to light the grasses on fire.

We began on the north side of the field, and Jake followed behind on another 4-wheeler with a water tank on the back.

As we got to the northeast edge, I snapped this photo while we waited for Jake to catch up.

We thought we had the burn controlled, so I drove along the eastern and southern borders of the field, with Randy lighting the brush behind us.

As I drove and bounced along the uneven field, I said, "I really hate this."

And Randy said, "I know."

At the time, I didn't know exactly how much I would come to hate it by the end of the day.

We got to the southwest corner, where we knew the fire would be stopped by a wheat field.

Fire is quite a force. You can hear its roar. You can feel its heat. The tongues of orange and yellow flames devour the dry grasses faster than a group of teenage boys can plow through a bag of chips.

We watched awhile and then Randy took the 4-wheeler and went to check on Jake's progress.

I waited and took more photos.

Randy came back to get me and Jake went to check on the northern side of the burn again. And then we got THE phone call.

Embers had drifted onto the ground to our north. No little water tank on the back of a 4-wheeler was going to supply enough water to overtake the fire.

Randy & I raced back to get the pickup and bigger water tank. We started dialing 911. And dialed. And dialed. And dialed some more.

Remember: I told you this was in a never-never-land of cell phone coverage. Finally, a Stafford County dispatcher picked up. I've never been so glad to hear someone's voice on the other end of the line.

And the cavalry was dispatched. Sirens aren't usually something I want to hear, but I was awfully glad to hear them that evening. It seemed like it took hours, but it's really miraculous how quickly volunteer firefighters respond when they are called.

We had fire departments from Sterling, Alden, Raymond and the Quivira Refuge.

In all, about 80 acres were unintentionally burned.

But I didn't burn one of the dozens of cookies I baked to thank the firefighters for helping us out. We are so appreciative of the volunteers who give their time and effort to help others in an emergency.

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