We’re still in the middle of haying, and the grass on the hills is still green – but it’s now fire season. Our local volunteer fire crew - of which we are members - has been paged out three times this week.
Haying is running over a month behind due to an extremely cool, wet summer. We’re usually finished with the first cutting early in July, but we didn’t even start until the 12th of July.
Before that hay had a chance to dry, we were hit with another series of afternoon showers. In an average year, it takes about three days for hay to dry enough to be baled. Those first three fields laid in the windrow for 12 days before there was enough break in the weather for them to dry.
On Tuesday, a rancher mowing along the road sparked a small fire.
On Wednesday, lightening caused a fire in a deep, forested coulee. It took some dozen trucks, several dozen firefighters, two retardant tankers, an overnight standby, and a day to mop up the hot-spots.
On Thursday, we put together our own ranch ‘fire truck’: a 300-gallon water tank on a flatbed, with pump, hose, and fire tools. I was just getting ready to go out and bale hay when a thunderstorm rolled in and dropped ¼” of rain. After it passed, we saw smoke on the ridge across the river.
Four of us went up from the bottom as far as we could on ATVs, then hoofed it up the rest of the way carrying fire tools and a chainsaw. We had it contained to a small area when the trucks reached us from above, and laid enough hose to extinguish it.
The wet summer has grown some lush fuel that will become more and more dangerous as the summer progresses. Lightening strikes are common. We’ve used our home-built rig on two fires in the past, and take some comfort in having that water standing by for a quick response.