Joe’s Stories, some old, some new and mostly true

By on October 9, 2017

Wind, rain and fire

These elements of nature had a devastating effect on our country in recent weeks. The damages will take years to recover from. While the physical features can be repaired/rebuilt, the tragic loss of lives and debilitating injuries can’t be recovered.

The media in general kept us informed of the extreme wind and water damage in some southern states. We also saw and heard stories of heroic acts, daring rescues and selfless aid given to those who lost everything.

The media did make occasional references to the forest fires in some western states but little detail was included. Our son, Peter, who lives in Thompson Falls in western Montana, made us aware of that. His area had several fires going and at one time there was a “prepare to evacuate” notice given. It never became necessary to leave, but dense smoke made it difficult to breathe and limited visibility.

Another source of information was our son-in-law Don, a New York state DEC employee who is also a volunteer forest fire fighter. Don traveled to Montana with a crew of 20 from New York State, joined by 80 other volunteers from several eastern states. When the U.S. Forest Service requests this type of aid, they often don’t know exactly where they will be deployed, as it usually is an ever changing situation. Actual decisions are made after the crews arrive in Missoula, Montana. The forest service assigns a name to each fire usually based on its location or the particular National Forest where the fire is.

On this occasion it was decided the New York crew would be sent to a fire in the Kootenia National Forest in the extreme northwest corner of Montana. Their specific location was near Eureka, a small town about seven miles from the Canadian border. The crew was assigned mainly to containment and mop up operations often involving extinguishing small new fires or lingering fires burning in tree stumps or dense brush areas. For several days they worked at night since those hot spots or new fires are easier to locate when it’s dark. On August 31, as their two week tour was ending, they returned to Missoula for the flight home.

About that same time, a fire a few miles west of Eureka was intensifying in an area that is home to one of the oldest Amish settlements in Montana. On September 2 that fire made a run of four and one-half miles in just a few hours. It destroyed 11 homes and about 30 outbuildings. Veteran fire fighters told the community that in an entire career they had never seen a fire run like that one.

Andy, his wife, Caroline, and their three children, an Amish family, were among those who received a pre-evacuation notice and one day later a frantic mandatory evacuation order. Andy hitched up the horses, put his wife and family in the buggy and sent them down the only road in or out of the area, with the fire’s roar and 200 feet high flames coming their way. He and his brother followed with a wagon loaded with some of their belongings. The brothers then returned to try and finish setting up a sprinkler system around the house but left when the Sheriff’s deputies urged them to get out. Reportedly the fire roared through less than an hour after they left.

When they were allowed to return, he found their year old 40 by 80 feet barn and apartment had been totally destroyed but the lean to where they kept their buggy, about 50 feet away, was untouched by the fire. In an interview with a local reporter, Andy, in typical Amish fashion said, “So when we are up there looking at all the fire had done and all of a sudden out in the middle of all this a home is still standing – we rejoice. That is a symbol of hope and we pray for the family that can come back to their home. This same family will cry and pray with us because we lost ours, but we also rejoice for what we still have. There has been no life lost and our families are still with us. The losses were things that can be replaced – family can’t. Amish or not, we always come together to help each other, so this is just going to strengthen the whole community.”

Until they can rebuild a livable structure, Andy’s family is living in a vacation cabin which a Canadian family offered them for as long as necessary. Several other families are also using vacation cabins made available by their owners.

Knowing about all the devastation around the country, one can’t help but be grateful for things that didn’t happen here.

Yes, we had damaging winds and rain more that desired or needed. Despite our complaints, Western New York is a good place to live and we sometimes believe we are in control of things.

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