Monday, June 20, 2011

#37 - Drought, Fire, Tornadoes and Hurricanes

Since we've not been able to go to our land in the country for a few weeks, I am having serious withdrawals. However, we are having triple digit temperatures here in Texas with a severe drought. It's not a good time to go work on our raw land. In fact, in a county that's not too far from our forested land, there is a wildfire burning over 4,000 acres. This fire started yesterday, with a Father's Day celebration and a BBQ pit that spilled out of control. The good news is, it looks as if rain is headed our way, tomorrow. Hopefully, the months of drought that we've encountered will be finished.

Dry land needing a drink!
The forestry division near our acreage discussed the possibility of forest fires in our area with my husband and I as their captive audience. It was odd, I sat there feeling kind of deflated and helpless. My most basic thought began with a city curb, a simple curb on our street, in our neighborhood, in the city. In front of our city home, we have a fire hydrant which brings a certain sense of peace.

The fire hydrant in front of our house, ready to do battle.
Additionally, we have multiple fire departments ready to respond and they are probably within three minutes of our house. No doubt, city amenities give you an edge, a quick response, and a good chance to combat a fire before it gobbles you whole.

We regularly burn debris on the land so we can keep it under control
The forestry division told us that if we were to encounter a forest fire on our land, that we should call 911 and the fire department would be there as soon as possible, and he issued a warning for us to not kill ourselves trying to battle any fires on our own. The forestry man in his uniform reminded me of "Smokey the Bear" and he proceeded to tell us about a man near our acreage who had set a fire on his land to burn brush and it got out of hand. The man decided to haul buckets of water from his well to the area that was burning so he could try to contain it. But, he should've dialed 911 immediately. Forestry man said he should've made that call and sat back and waited for the country fire department to respond. Instead, the man hauled bucket after bucket until he died from a heart attack trying to combat the fire on his land. The fire department found the man lying there with a bucket nearby, dead from his own fruitless efforts.

Lyla, also called "Big Red" sits outside enjoying the sun on her bones.
So, when we move to our land, I will definitely have a nice stock of fire extinguishers at different points on our land, and we will have yearly refresher lessons on how to operate them properly. However, if a fire hits, we will always dial 911 first, so the fire department can start heading our direction. Having a fire prevention and escape plan in the country is probably more imperative than it is here in the city. The country's definition of a "fast response" is much different from the city's definition. Here it means perhaps two minutes, but if you live in the middle of rural town, that response time is automatically increased several precious minutes. Being prepared is imperative.

You might have to do battle with the blaze until the fire department arrives, but hopefully you'll have more than singular buckets of water. Here in the city, if a fire hits our home, we have a plan to meet at the growing oak tree in our front yard while calling 911. I have a little fire extinguisher in our kitchen, but I do depend on our local fire department more heavily than I would if I lived in the country. In the country, if you don't do some kind of battle with the blaze, it will certainly win because the fire department is simply too far away.

All throughout the acreage, Deputy Dave hauls the trailer on the back of
the lawn tractor and gathers large bits of dead debris. Living on forested
land makes this task a huge, never-ending job. This part of our land, about two
acres, was partially cleared, years ago, but the woods have reclaimed it.
This area is now being over-run by new trees. 
This makes me realize that our home in the country should be constructed with a lay-out that is friendly to emergency personnel. Their vehicles need to be able to cross our culverts with relative ease and be able to find our home on the wooded acreage within a short period of time. Since our home site will be fairly tucked into the backside of our property, the fire trucks should still be able to reach the home without major obstructions.

I've never fought a fire before, well, except for the one that I started when I was about 14 years old while in my room trying to smoke a cigarette. My parents went on a short outing, so I thought I'd try very first time to try smoking. In my bedroom, I lit the cigarette, but I didn't even get to take a few puffs because my parents drove up. What were they doing back so soon? In a panic, I did what any 14 year old would do when smoking in their room, I threw the lit cigarette into my little trashcan. From my bedroom window that faced the front yard, I could see my parents coming up the house walkway, but I had just tossed the cigarette away and was trying to use a piece of paper to fan away any remaining cigarette smell. Then, I heard a crackling as my parents were now passing directly in front of my window; I looked over to see flames shooting up from inside my trashcan.

That's my dad looking back over his shoulder, he worked on off-shore oil rigs
in the North Sea. My mother sits nearby, fashionable in her cap. This
picture was taken in Belgium, when we lived in Europe. My dad was
a definite Rough Neck and no one messed with him.
In a panic, I took my glass of tea and threw it into the trashcan and the flames were extinguished. However, little bits of floating ash were flying all over my room. I was terrified that my parents would smell the fire that I'd just put out in their house or that they would open my door and see the floating bits of ash that I could not gather into my hysterical hands grabbing at the air. Thank goodness that my personal safety was on a roll that day because, if I'd been caught, I would have faced certain physical punishment. But, they did not open the door and I guess their sense of smell was dulled. I lucked out.

My dad and my mother. With THIS dad, I didn't want to be caught smoking
or starting a fire in our house.
But, that day of trying to smoke in my room taught me a "forever lesson." I saw, first-hand, the incredible power and swiftness of a growing flame. The tiny little end of a burning cigarette served as a match and the flames that followed did nothing less than shock me completely. I battled the growing blaze and felt like a loser and a triumphant winner, all at once. I started a fire by accident, by teenage stupidity, then I put it out in a panic. And, I NEVER became a smoker. I was cured before I even began.

This moment in my past serves to remind me that fire can take us by surprise; one small spark can light up our world in a devastating manner. Even when fire does not take us by surprise, it can overwhelm us and teach us all about the lack of mercy. Confronting a fire in the middle of a forest is an ordeal I would not want to face, but I want to be prepared. As my mother would say, "Expect the best, but prepare for the worst."

I hope the rains this week will come and that our drought here in Texas will be alleviated. However, after seeing widespread flooding and devastation from storms, I get nervous. After all, we just rebuilt our home after it was destroyed by Hurricane Ike and that is still in our short-term memory. I can't imagine having to go through such devastation again.

Before the hurricane encompassed our house, we watched the news and Hurricane Ike glowed on the weather radar. The hurricane loomed large, as if it were a terrifying monster approaching our home. Within hours, the storm whipped around our house and tore it to pieces, letting the rain fall down into the house as if it were an artificial rainforest structure. Sheetrock began collapsing, blown-in insulation whirled throughout the house, rain poured through the roof that had been partially ripped off by  hurricane winds and a tornado, and every light fixture and air vent that remained had water pouring through it as if we were in an eerie horror movie. It was dark, there was no light, but water poured in everywhere. There was no shelter to be found.

A gutted house - everything we owned was soaked after days and days of rain,
without a roof and without electricity. Our zip code was in a mandatory evacuation
zone. We had been worried about a tidal surge, not our roof coming off.
Since my husband is a First-Responder, the three of us stayed.
My husband patrolled during the storm, but other officers came by the
house constantly. As the full brunt of the hurricane hit and all
patrols ended, my husband was able to come home - during the heart of the storm.
I've now lived through 2 major hurricanes, but will never stay for
another one. This one burned me out for good. Living close to the
bay is awesome, but has risks. But, every area of the country,
in one form or another, has a potential for natural disasters.
We cannot find immunity from nature. That is life.
We know our land in the country might be more insulated from any hurricane disaster, but I know there are other disasters, especially in a is a particular threat that we will be prepared to confront. We made it through a hurricane and a tornado, and I hope we never have to face another disaster, but we are strong and will be prepared.

My youngest daughter's room, after the storm. This is what happened to
our house, the roof was torn off by hurricane winds and a tornado,
then the wet sheetrock began collapsing with wet weight.
You can see the ceiling fan blades drooping
from the continuous rain coming in the house. It smelled to high
Heaven with Texas heat and added humidity, making it almost unbearable.
Insulation was in everything; insulation fibers cannot be washed
out of your clothes, etc., it embeds into everything.
Every item you can see in this picture is soaked
thoroughly and begins to reek.
I look forward to living in the country and to having a greater distance from hurricanes as they churn in the Gulf of Mexico. But, for now, we watch weather reports and sometimes find ourselves holding our breath as a new storm is forming. We are newly into this years hurricane season, and I brace myself.

It will be great if we can hold on and escape any other hurricanes. I definitely want to avoid tornadoes, but hurricane winds are like a tornado that won't come to an end, it goes on for hours and it's terrifying. So, I'm ready to move to the country, but my husband is on the tail end of his working requirement so that he can go on retirement, then we will be off for the woods and our farm life will finally be in full mode.

Until then, I will watch the weather reports and try to not hold my breath too often.


Rae said...

I can't imagine living somewhere that natural disasters are such a risk. You're a brave woman!

Fire is such a scary thing. Having worked for the park service for a number of years, and been friends with numerous woodland firefighters, I've both seen and heard about some pretty scary stuff. Good that you're planning ahead to be prepared. Best if nothing happens, but if it does, sounds like you'll be in pretty good shape!

WhisperingWriter said...

Wow, that is just insane. I'm with the first comment, you are extremely brave.

LindaG said...

We are careful when we burn, because we worry about the possibility of just such a fire. And I don't recall seeing a fire hydrant in the country.

And you can see how quickly cleared places get retaken, just by looking at my pictures...
We understand your withdrawal. That's why we started going more often. Just wish it didn't cost so much every time we did.

Hope you do get your rain. ♥

Paula said...

Funny story about the cigarette! (Although I'm sure it wasn't funny to you at the time! hehe)
It definitely looks dry there... hope you all get some much-needed rains soon!

Lana C. said...

Rae --- since you have experience in this area of park service, I'd take any advice you can give. The Forestry Dept. had also told us that it would be great to put in a "fire break" around our land, a six foot section of land that is free of debris and forest/brush, to help a spreading fire slow down and not jump from one property to the next. But, in our area, it is FULL of forested woods. Fire would be jumping everywhere. I'd just need enough water and water pressure to wet everything down as best as I could. Maybe that could help serve as part of our plan.

Lana from Farm Life Lessons said...

WhisperingWriter...thanks for thinking I'm brave, but I'm really not. I look at people along most coastlines and know the hard consequences they might face. Then again, ANY area could flood or face a fire and then I see terrible blizzards in the North that take lives and lately, these tornado zones experiencing such disaster, then there are land never ends with Mother Nature. But, the culture of people living close to the ocean is something that can't be explained, it's in our system and people will rebuild and keep coming back just because of the lifestyle. Having a healthy respect of the ocean is our main way of thinking...I don't under-estimate its power. However, this last time around, I was given an updated education.

Lana C. said...

Linda --- You know, I don't have any idea where the fire hydrants are in relation to our acreage and this is something that I will definitely research. I guess they simply haul up water logged trucks for interior pieces of raw acreage. You've also got me thinking about what the fire department does once a person builds a house? Do they put in a fire hydrant closer to the residence? I am going to try to find out the answers to these questions you've prompted me to consider. Also, we've had years and years of fighting prolific growth on our land. I love the lushness, but it's hard to pick and choose where you want it cleared because the growth doesn't just does it job and tries to take everything over. Augh!

Lana C. said...

Paula - you're right about it not being funny at the time, but I do think it contributed to me not smoking! And we DID finally get a tad bit of rain this morning, I was so happy! Looks like more rain is coming our direction and we sure do need it!