The Desolation of Smaug

While dragons are known for their fondness for gold and jewels, they are also known for the destruction they leave in their wake. My dragon was no exception.

This photo is from a news source taken shortly after I reported the fire. (One of the fire crew later told me he was heading north to Albuquerque when he was notified and that he could see the fire in his rear view mirror from about 30 miles away.)

Within a very short time after I called 911, the first crews started responding. All told, in addition to the local volunteer fire department (I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful these people are — they train on their own time, take time off from jobs to respond to fires and pay for almost all, if not all, of their personal equipment out of their own pocket. Please support your local fire crews!!!) there were boots on the ground from both federal and state agencies.

From another news agency:

On the south east side of my property (you can see my neighbor’s house after their fence burned)

The acreage on my property that fronted the road was heavily treed with primarily tamarisk (salt cedar) and a few other tree species. Over the years I had been having it thinned out but even after several years of fairly steady cutting, it was still very thick with trees. I did have grasses and other vegetation that had gotten started where the trees had been thinned out which, because of the dry conditions, just served as tinder to the fire.

Despite the devastation, no one was injured and while my neighbor to the north lost a couple of outbuildings and the one to the south lost a privacy fence, no one lost a house. All of my animals survived.

After the fire crews left on Friday, my concern was not having a way to secure the property as the gate posts had burned and the gates could not be closed and locked. Since I live in a great community with lots of support, an acquaintance came through and located a couple of men to come out and rebuild the H-braces holding the gates. So on Saturday morning while my neighbor and I did some quick and dirty fence repair  in a couple of places on the south side of the property, two great gentlemen came out and spent a miserable day in the sun, digging out the remnants of the buried railroad ties and dropping new ties in and otherwise doing all the hard work required in building H-braces. They were quick, efficient and did a wonderful job. My stress levels dropped enormously once I could secure the property again.

The photo I had put up a couple of days ago showed the burnt post from the other side of the gate. The H-braces on both sides were replaced/repaired and the gates rehung.

Since I ran two different vehicles off my property on Friday while the gates were not functional I decided that sadly it was probably time for me to post the property. So they even kindly hung my new fence sign.

Fix Standing Guard Duty

Again, I can’t express how appreciative I am that they came out on a Saturday (and holiday weekend to boot) to help me out. (Notice the surviving tree in the background – fire is a strange beast.) At some point in the next week I will do a final blog post on the fire and will include some tips for dealing with a fire. (After two fires in the immediate area in three years I think I can offer some useful advice so hopefully it will help someone in the future.)

Feeding the Dragon – Part Four

Thursday (05/23): Tomorrow the remaining fire crews hope to be finished and plan to depart. I cannot stress enough how amazing the fire crews have been.

I interrupted the lunch of one of the fire personnel and he very kindly escorted me around the burnt areas so that I could assess the damage myself. I know that the front gate posts and connecting fencing need to be repaired / replaced and that all of the braces need to be replaced but needed to know the extent of the other fence repairs needed. While the trees and vegetation are virtually gone, the damage to the wire fence and T-posts is not nearly as bad as I had feared. It appears that most will be salvageable. The biggest problem now is actually finding someone that can do a competent job of repair and/or rebuilding the fence (and whether my insurance will cover the cost.)

I am finishing the day more optimistic than I have been since Monday evening.

I will leave everyone with two final photos:

Fall 2007

This is what the entrance to the property looked like when I first bought the property and before I did any fencing.

May 23, 2019

This photo was taken this morning from approximately the same spot.

Feeding the Dragon – Part Three

Wednesday (05/22): The days have sort of run together. It is hard to keep to a normal work schedule with the frequent breaks to talk to various fire personnel.

The residual smoke has given me a wicked headache and I can’t imagine a job where breathing in smoke is normal. Actually I can’t imagine a job fighting fires. I never considered myself particularly afraid of fire until the Escondida fire of 2016, but the sight of those flames on Monday really scared me. I have always respected the job firefighters did but my respect jumped several levels during the 2016 fire. Happily (if that is a suitable word) the fire crews this week did not disappoint. The initial responders were my local volunteer fire department and I am, again, very thankful for their dedication to the community. Fire crews from BLM and the Forestry Department also responded and everyone worked together to do a wonderful job of containment. Three days later I still have crews on the ground ensuring that the hot spots don’t flare up again in our high winds.

The fire investigators have come and gone and a report on the fire’s cause will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. I’ve been told crews will be on the property through Friday finishing up. The few trees that didn’t fall but which are obviously dead are being cut down and ash piles are being raked.

Bulldozers are still at work (this is where one of the fire breaks was bulldozed) and the fire crews will be on the ground through Friday.

The gates to the driveway are intact but unable to be used at this point. The railroad tie used as a gate post on the north gate burned and I’m not sure how the gate is still standing. (Oddly, on the south gate, the railroad tie holding the gate did not burn but the corresponding tie in the brace, probably 18 inches apart, also burned to the ground.)

And yet, the signs on the gate appear untouched.

You may notice that while some of the baling twine is still intact, other pieces melted and small bits are stuck to the metal.

Feeding the Dragon – Part Two

The fire crew called me after I left the property about bulldozing a fire break. I gave permission for them to do whatever they felt necessary and reiterated the statement that I had made when I left — I took everything necessary from the house (the dogs, my laptop and my box of paperwork) and there was nothing in the house that was worth anyone getting hurt or killed. My neighbor informed me later Monday night that the house was still standing and since I didn’t hear anything further I figured that remained the status quo. Tuesday morning (05/21) I left the dogs at my friend’s and drove back. I don’t have words to describe the devastation at the east end of the property but once I got past the last bend in the driveway and saw the house, everything was back to normal (except for the brightly colored surveyor’s tape attached to the gate posts). The bulldozed areas of the north central pasture weren’t visible unless you knew to look and the house, animal pens, etc. were all unscathed.

The power was still off so I couldn’t water livestock, but I fed and milked (I had left before milking Monday night so was expecting the two does to be full – I got a fraction of Nutmeg’s usual production and Spice, my best milker, gave me so little it wasn’t worth weighing.) After checking on things, I spoke with the electric co-op about the status of the power being restored and spoke with some of the fire crew. I then headed back to my friend’s to try and get some paying work done. By 1:30 pm the power had been restored and I packed up my laptop and the dogs and came home.

I saw many more fire crew as I drove down towards the house and stopped to speak to one who was taking extraordinary care to preserve the fence as he tried to cut out the still burning railroad tie that was part of the brace for the pasture gate.

Still burning

With the railroad tie removed. I am assuming the surveyor’s tape is to increase visibility for the fire crew so they can see the posts or other possible impediments

Fire is an odd beast – it is hard to understand why, in the midst of destruction, there are still some trees unburned or areas of ground vegetation still green.

Feeding the Dragon

Monday afternoon (May 20th) the power went out. I waited about half an hour and when the power wasn’t restored I called to report an outage. A few minutes later I went out to feed. When I started for the hydrant I realized that without power I had no water so I diverted towards the house. As I was walking back to the house I looked towards the pasture where the sheep were and saw flames high above the cottonwoods in that pasture. I immediately called 911 to report the fire, telling the dispatcher that they would have to cut the chain on the gate as I couldn’t get down to unlock it  and then started trying to contact neighbors as I walked down the drive to see exactly where the fire was.

A neighbor jumped the easement fence and came over with a shovel to beat out the fire that had started in the grass in the north pasture closest to the house. I had to first chase the sheep and lambs out of the pasture before I could help with putting out the grass fire.

Fire from the southeast pasture approaching the middle pasture

Fire in southeast pasture

About this time the first volunteer fire fighters arrived. As soon as the fire burned all the available vegetation along the drive up by the gate, and I was able to leave, I loaded the dogs into the car and went to stay with a friend in town. The sheep were still loose on the western part of the property and I turned out all the goats as well so they weren’t trapped in pens.

All of the railroad tie braces burned – all the pasture and perimeter fences in the fire zone need to be repaired and/or replaced

Heading out. Smoke made visibility very poor.

The above and below photos were taken less than two hours from when I first noticed flames. The areas shown had been wooded.

One more photo from Monday night – next post will have photos from the next day.

One of this Weekend’s Projects

The former owners of my place evidently entertained frequently enough where they had put in a concrete patio with a gazebo and had installed a pond surrounded by flagstone off one corner of the patio. (I removed the gazebo a few years ago and replaced it with a greenhouse.) The pond was not operational at the time I moved in and I never bothered to put in a pump. Therefore, over the years, the pond really has only provided a breeding place for mosquitoes and I kept saying I was going to remove it and use the flagstones to create a path to the pump house.  However, there always seems to be more projects than time and this project kept getting put off. Today though two friends showed up to help me put in both a pathway to the pump house and one to the keyhole garden.

One friend and I started the task of removing flagstone while my other friend designed the path and laid the stone. (I had no idea how complicated it is to properly lay flagstone — I would have just laid the stones on the ground and assumed that was sufficient.) We removed enough flagstone for both paths and I promised the rest of the flagstone to my friends in exchange for their help so will help them move and load the rest when they come to pick up the stone.

Luckily it rained Friday and briefly yesterday so the ground wasn’t rock hard. I will salt the spaces between the flagstone and around the edges so that weeds don’t overgrow the stone. Once I pull weeds (again) from the area, I will seed it with clover.

Here is the new path to the pump house (it got the seal of approval from Kip, Sleet and Fix.) I’ll post later on the path to the garden and the keyhole garden.

Kip, Sleet and Fix