Bob riding Dan out of the fire.
One of us usually had an outside job to make ends meet. For a year I worked in a boarding school kitchen in the next town, cooking for the kids. I walked the mile and a half logging road out to the van truck and then drove five miles to work every day.
There had been a drought for three weeks. The ground was very dry and crackled when we walked in the woods. The towns were not allowing burning permits and the radio stations warned against burning and reported on several forest fires raging in New England. With the heat also came the clouds of biting blackflies, especially in the woods. A friend who was cutting wood with us had a small fire of green wood going to keep the black flies away from where he was working. He had to go pick up his brother so he put the fire out and left in his truck. Only the fire wasn’t completely out. When the ground is that dry, fire can travel underground in the dry root systems and that’s what it did. The fire got going in a pile of wood and spread very quickly.
It was Easter Sunday and the school staff was putting on a big Easter dinner, so I was busy doing prep work in the school kitchen. The manager came to tell me I had a phone call. Bob’s voice on the phone was breathless and loud. “Jamie!” he said, “our land is on fire!” In shock I asked “Is Danny out and safe?” He said, “Yes I rode him out to get to a phone at Otto’s house. I’ve never seen him gallop so fast!” I jumped in the truck and drove home as fast as I could. As I crossed the bridge over the Connecticut River, I could see the smoke on top of the hill. It looked like our whole hundred acres was on fire. Of course I got behind a long line of slow-moving traffic through the center of Northfield. It was so frustrating, but I had to keep a cool head and just keep moving toward home.
Smoke on our hill seen from the Connecticut River bridge.
Bob met me at the end of our road and we tied Danny up at our neighbor Otto’s farm. Firemen and water tank trucks were everywhere, moving up our logging road. We ran to the cabin to find the fire was only two hundred feet from it. Bob got our ladder and put it up to the roof. I took our gravity feed water hose and climbed up to the roof ridge to spray water on it. On the ground the hose had a good strong flow, but up on the roof it just dripped. The height of the roof was just enough to equalize the gravity of our system from up the stream. I was frustrated and scared that the cabin would be burnt down. Just then I heard a diesel engine coming through the woods and looked up to see a 1950 Power Wagon four-wheel-drive tanker truck coming from our plateau down to the cabin. I was so relieved the cavalry had arrived! The tanker truck parked right next to our cabin and the firemen started spraying down the trees. The smoke was so dense it was hard to breathe. Flames were leaping from the treetops. The firemen told us to evacuate the cabin because the fire was too close. We had taken all our valuables: the chainsaws, Bob’s silver flute and my dulcimer and my grandfather’s paint-box and put them in a big steel washbasin and put the basin in the stream with a wet canvas over it. We were trying to save more of our stuff but the fire kept coming closer and the firemen told us to leave. Overhead we heard the roar of a big plane and then saw the silver wing of a tanker plane flying low over the fire and spraying water. We didn’t have time to grab clothes, just jumped in our logging truck to get it to safety and hoped for the best.
We spent the night at a friend’s house in town and thought for sure we had lost the cabin and all our belongings. The next day I cautiously rode Danny up our road through the burn area. Horses have a natural fear of fire and Danny was very nervous. The ground was charred and smoking. A few flames broke out here and there. Many firemen still patrolled with water tanks on their backs (called Indian water packs) spraying the hot spots. Danny was so brave; he kept walking through the smoking forest. We were on the logging road, which was not hot as there was not much to burn on it. But the forest path to the cabin was charred and his feet were hot from the burnt ground. When we came up the hill to the cabin, it was such a relief to see that it was still there! The firemen had stopped the fire just one hundred feet from our home! I rode Dan to the stream and let him stand in it to cool his feet before riding out. We had to stay off the land for two days while firemen kept roaming through it with their Indian Water Packs to put out hot spots.
Day after fire.
When we finally did go home for good the charred smell of the woods was over powering but we got used to it. We found the hoses of our gravity water system had all melted. My Indian brush fence had also burned up, but the garden was still there and so were Dan’s shed and half the corral. About eighteen acres had burned and we were lucky that it was contained to that.
We were very thankful for the hardworking volunteer firemen and women from five towns who had saved our home.