Why do Hellashish Prairie Fires Happen to Fun Family Picnics?
God "allows" horrible things to happen for an even greater good! Some people simply write a thank-you note in gratitude for the efforts of support crews and firefighters. In this instance, (the Elm Springs, SD, fires) beginning with the annual Ronald Reagan Memorial picnic fire, there is a complex and intriguing tale to share.
A swather skimming a stone, then a dry lightning storm dancing across Pennington and Meade counties were the bic flickers to catalyze a local Armageddon of OOC's (out-of-control) wildfires. Let's see, 114° F, 50 to 85 mph winds, three wind directions, could be a recipe for a memory-maker!
If you were to hand select the most pristine, rugged, beautiful grass and cattle country in the U.S.A. or even the world, the Elm Springs, Wasta, Enning areas would be in the top three category. Ask someone like Ron Ragsdale who landed here from Texas. He will tell you about shopping earnestly nation wide. No single fire will adequately challenge these families. These folks are here in the Lord's Country "because they are quitters" not!
The picnic fire was followed soon after by at least five simultaneously raging OOC's along the rim of Elk Creek and the Belle Fourche river. Jim Smith, Sam Johnston, Lynn Fields, Ray Olsen, Wilma Moore, Lawrence Burke, Lois Lapp, Jim Scull, and Ron Ragsdale were among the affected landowners whose tall grass and cedar trees were sacrificed in this drama of human bravery.
Have you ever been asked: "Where were the Hatfield's and the McCoys?" The best answer is, every community in the world has this periodic reverse polarity dating back to Eden and uncourtesy of Lucifer. So how does the good Lord intervene and rewire without interrupting the exercise of our free will? Please recognize the validity of "Nothing unites quicker than a common foe"!
The devil hates places like Elm Springs, unless he can divide and conquer and earn real stripes. The need to renew the fire department, afforded the prime environment for the Hatfield-Mccoy syndrome.
A new fire hall or not?
A new fire chief or the old?
A tanker or not?
New equipment or the old?
Government involvement or not?
Blame or faults for previous fires or not?
We've heard all these questions and know that so often the dividing comes not so much in the decision as in the hurtful delivery or not!
The proof of God's Grace, is where the rubber meets the road, while brothers and sisters, Moms and Dads sort through these decisions and work to improve the community for the common good!
To do the right thing is part of forgiving 70 times seven. When all those neighbors were arm pit to elbow in the smoke and flames and much more than tolerable heat, that makes you feel like a marshmallow on a stick, each person intrinsically renews their appreciation of thy neighbor taking over against the flames, I'm gassed out. A fresh partner tags you off, and hands on, assumes, the quest of breathing only smoke to finish off a line of flames that I just can't get, cause I need some air. Love that neighbor and don't forget!
The Ronald Reagan Picnic is staged on the rim of the Mighty Cheyenne River. Lewis and Clark, General Custer, C.K. Howard, Slim Cordes, Mack Trask, and every Indian and white to lay eyes is infatuated!
As I withdrew from the tent area along the rim, the sequence of events is literally blurry from smoke in the eyes and lungs and my own personal conclusion that our winter and SPRING PASTURE were minutes or hours from being ashified.
Three times Chad Kaltenbach and I, with Stephanie and Phil Wilson moving the new fire truck for us as we doused the LEAD flames under the rim of the breaks only to have another tree erupt projecting debris skyward to new grass and finally sweep up and through the tent, tables, chairs, lawn mowers, and finally sweep across the plateau like flat accelerating towards the SPRING PASTURE! This is the sanctuary of lush forage and shelter and constitutes a whole new geography or basin of grass, trees, and uncrossable gully's that will broaden the fire front proclaiming the death sentence to thousands of new acres of riparian habitat and reconscripting much hours of fuel, blood, sweat, and tears to recapture control!
Many men (also women) know what to do but only a few know when to do it! History proclaims that the list of notables who knew when, and then just did it, included John Paul Jones, General Patton, General McArthur, General Lee, George Washington, Rambo, David of Jesse, and Joan of Arc. Would, that there were people like them today. They're here all right!
For hours and then days flows the verified testimony from my kids who were with, or near, or directed, by an army of local Queen Berets, and Plateau Rangers whose alias readeth thus: George Michaels, Jack Wieser, Dave Humphrey, Mike Heathershaw, Al Trask, Nick and Tyler Caspers, Joe Trask, Brady Orourke, Bud Pauley, Rod and Marvin Anders, Morris Linn, Rusty Lytle, Rod and Wyatt Volmer, Jim Jacquot, Larry Gravatt, Jim Smith, Fred Ferguson, Terry Gunn, Larry Schell, JW Wrachford, Stan and Kenny Matt, Larry Graham, Carl Richter, Bummer Simons, Clyde Arneson, Joe, Pete, and Tom Bruch, John Bestgen, Paul Yantes, Bob Cronin, Ken Knuppe, Jay, Wes Wilburn Cary and Clay Tines, Philip and Kenny Wilson, Colby and Trent Shearer, Stephanie, Nick, Matt, John Paul, Austin, Becky, Mark, Mick, and Julie Trask, the list goes on including all our neighbors!
Please read on because the story takes a turn to the specific at this point. We are talking extreme courage, skill, endurance, and cooperation.
When you are fighting fire, the objective is to put it out as fast as you can and the advice about how, is best answered by the land owner who knows the land, pays the bills, and lives with the reality, now and tomorrow! If that is Sam Johnston or his designee, or the Park Service or their designee, then defer to their counsel, but do the obvious.
According to Michaels and Wieser, when they asked me what to do: the answer was "Go to the front of the fire and put it out"! George and Jack grabbed Joe Trask to be their guide: how do we get to the front of the fire? Joe pointed and the old '78 F-250 lunged forward toward ground zero plus 1000°.
Remember that passage about the last will be first and etc. Well, the Goliath of this and every fire is the lead, the front. That's where it's the hottest, the fastest, the most deadly. It defies every creature and every machine! "Catch me if you can, but if you falter you're mine" sizzles the fire. Every fallen effort increases the fuel of Goliath!
Wieser, Michaels, and Joe (in the Mo Truck) went around to come face to face with Goliath as the updraft torch burst higher and higher towards the "HOG BACK RIDGE," gateway to the "SPRING PASTURE"! As they attempt approach to the point, the side of the hogback is so steep Mo Truck slides sideways and Jack turns quickly to avert the roll over. Joe to the left, Jack to the right with bags whipping the flames and George is between spraying a 1-2-3 rhythm of partner, flames, and other partner. Down the hill, head on into the smoke and flames runs Al Trask and Nick Caspers, gutty hunks of resolve replicating WWII heroes, Granddad Jim Curran and uncle Warren O'Connell pummeling the flames and smoke, obliterating Goliath with every fiber of their soul, renewed every few seconds by another burst of high pressure from George's water cannon.
In a life and death drama for control of the summit of the HOG BACK RIDGE gateway to the "SPRING PASTURE" there was no retreat for these men.
Somehow the "lead furnace death torch" reached the summit only to be defeated by the collective tenacity of these indomitable men who were to be seen repeating the routine at Dalzell, Sherwood Forest, and Elm Springs. Michaels steps out, douses his partners and the Mo Truck, and attacks the lead flames to divide and conquer by a repeated clover leaf pattern of plunging the Mo Truck and Humphrey's Quinn yellow rocket into the fire point.
Hey wait a minute, where did that yellow rocket come from? Where did it go? Out of the smoke again and again; up steep cliffs and down. Tell us how the Mo Truck and the yellow Quinn rocket are different from air craft? No wings. Actually, Mo Linn and Larry Gravatt are usually seen in the old Dodge bobbing and weaving in and around harms way, to back up the uncanny sense of (where to go and how to get there) that Sam Johnston is aptly providing. Always on point and often biting off a perilous chunk of the action that begs for the faithful rescues of Enning's Angels!
A very Divine guidance that assisted these people, guys and gals, old equipment and new, seemed to override the natural law for the greater good: Nurturing the victory! It came all right, and like all victories, is a hill top from which to see yet another battle, another theatre, and so it was in Elm Springs for 48 hours, parts of three days!
Oh, dear God, how much did we need your help, and those kids of mine who were everywhere with this rig and that and this neighbor and that! Can I be so blessed to witness, while I tried intermittently to direct, advise, devise, mobilize the road grader, tractor and disc, build a fire guard further down wind, maybe to succeed later.
Here's a deputy, here a highway patrol car, here's a van load of United States Air Force color guard. The whole time, victory is being succored by a fierce core crew of sinewy fortitude and the huge support of volunteer departments, ranch trucks, snuffy picnickers and oh, those beloved neighbors!
Listen readers, there is no overpenning here. When I say the yellow-rocket and Mo Truck and Caspersmobile were everywhere and all about feeding Goliath to himself, it's true!
When you hear someone brag about the efficacy of these locals grooving to the music of common sense, love of God and neighbors, it's true they prevailed in 2005 on the 16th, 17th, and 18th against six fires. 1,500 acres burned not 30,000!!
Remember how the three days of smoke in the historic Wasta, Elm Springs, Enning community was a massive victory and maybe it's only a coincidence, there were no pompous bright-suited fire directors pronouncing assumption of command post authority!
I was a McCoy reluctant to support a new fire hall building, unable to believe we needed a tanker, more inclined to dismiss the old equipment in favor of one, new, good machine!
For all eternity, I'll see in my mind's eye those neighbors shoulder to shoulder, boxing Goliath and needing each other. Through the three days of flames, the old chief and the new chief with all their gifts and skills were on the line, exhausted, dirty, choking, and gasping, sharing. Yup, it's not the machines, but the humans that pilot them.
When we reconvene the Ronald Reagan picnic, there we will celebrate President Reagan's love of the Constitution. We can re-remember that we are still blessed to live out the dream of true freedom to do the right thing. Reagan's legacy was to reverberate the eternal truths of Christian Society; Government is to serve and protect the human person and his property! God says so!