The first thing that went wrong was me oversleeping. But I don’t oversleep. I have two alarms on my phone so that never happens. Friday morning I woke up a few minutes late. My first thought was that there would be no leisurely reading my local tv news app on my phone as I got my coats on.
Exiting my bedroom hallway I saw the real problem. Orange flames lit my living room windows from outside. I thought our chimney was on fire, but for better or worse, it was the farm’s shop building. Like the smoke to come, the next part gets hazy.
How do you lose your shirt, literally and figuratively, over the span of ten feet? Mine disappeared somewhere from my grasp in the panic. I could save my truck and skid loader if I hurried outside, but I dressed in slow motion and like a four-year-old, or, at least, it seemed like it at the time. My wife appeared holding the phone talking to the 911 operator. I’m sure words were spoken between us before that, but those moments are lost.
I managed to call family on the phone in the melee and bolted outside. But I was too late. Fire licked the hood of my Ford and the garage for the skid steer was worse. The shop, the shop where my great grandfather milked, the shop where a small humbly made Bright Bros sign that my father and uncle had made when they were starting out hung, the shop that held our tools, supplies and many a problem fixed, the shop where hung the yearly marked growth sticks for each farm kid, was lost.
I left my wife and kids at the house and saw my uncle rounding the corner huffing and white faced. This part is jumbled, too. I’m sure I told him the fire department was coming. And I remember there were sporadic pops and bangs coming from the fire as oil containers, WD-40 cans, and an acetylene tank exploded.
I ran around the back side of the shop, taking the long way for safety, to inspect the calf barn. An upper door to the loft shone with fire in the darkness. By this time, there was no power to this barn and I fumbled with the water hose pulling it first outside and sprayed the door and then doubled back inside and drug it up the stairs to soak the same spot again. I ended up doing this twice more and I think this was when I burned my ankle which I never noticed until pulling off my socks that night.
A siren blared over the fire and I hurried to meet them. I’m sure more family had arrived by this time to help however they could. Four fire trucks in all arrived refilling as needed at the nearby fire hydrant installed late last year, the only real sign of city water in our area.
Let there be no doubt that these fearless men, my cousin among them, saved us. Their speedy arrival, experience, and get-it-done attitude prevented the fire from spreading further. They kept the fire from doing major damage to the hay barn, feedway, and the newly evacuated calf barn; family decided we’d take no chances with the calves and promptly shown them the exit door.
As the fire at the shop became more and more contained, the possibility of the silo being on fire was raised. Smoke raced up the chute and billowed from the rounded top cap. Again and again, they sent bursts of water up the chute, stopping only to jump out of the way as orange glowing embers, formerly known as silo doors, fell. Eventually, they turned the tide, and we now feel only the doors and power cable suffered damage.
The aftermath, or, at least, the aftermath that we are now experiencing is difficult, but even that is tempered by the generosity of friends and neighbors who are helping us cope. In the midst of the fire, the most important part of the farm was taken care of. We milked the cows. Then we fed the cows. I hope we did the best we could for them as we are asked to do.
A thin line separates hope and fear, optimism and pessimism. Each of us has to choose which side of that line to be on. My family is safe. Our house is safe. We didn’t lose any of the other barns. The cows and calves are safe. We are fortunate. And I choose hope.