Sunday, November 22, 2009

First, I Moved The Sheep...

...to the far end of the pasture in two makeshift pens. I made sure the sheep would be safe, but also that they really couldn't see what was about to happen just on the other side of the barn.
Earlier this year our neighbor decided to sell her place to our county and the Parks & Rec Department. They were very interested in adding the land, which has part of the wetlands stream running through it, to the land they owned behind our houses. The large field has springs and is the last sheet wetlands in Arizona. Our neighbor, a divorcee my age, had bought the house from one of her children, using it to restart her life again. With the economy taking a downturn, she was feeling the pinch of how much her mortgage would eat up her paychecks...paychecks now shrinking with her hours being reduced to save money. The house needed a lot of repair and work - much more than she could do herself or afford to have someone else do for her.
Earlier this summer we were approached by Parks & Rec and our local fire department, Highlands Fire District, to let us know the house was scheduled to be burned (after other measures were done such as asbestos abatement, land was to be shaped behind the house into a retention berm for retaining any runoff from the fire so as not to contaminate the watershed). While the idea of having a house go up in flames right next door didn't set too well, both my DH and I know how important this training could be for our fire department. If they would be considerate of a few things we requested, sure...we were all for this being used as a training event for firemen.
"Why are we all way over here? And why are all those silly chickens running around like chickens with their heads cut off?"

Safety for the sheep, chickens, and our property was of utmost importance for me (and my DH). The last thing I wanted was my barn going up in flames with my winter's supply of hay and feed! I was assured things would be protected with firemen assigned to specifically watch our property to prevent any and all damage to our place. Well, OK...but...
I was informed that I shouldn't worry...or they would be replacing everything if something happened.
I moved the sheep and chickens anyway.
Above, the house with boarded up windows and most everything removed inside to just leave a shell of its former self. We got a tour in a briefing the day before the burn.
Signs of a fire started in the main floor bathroom. The firemen had training inside the house on dealing with a smoke-filled situation and how to find their way out of thick smoke before the main fire was started.
A bit more smoke with some ladder work.

The fire beginning in earnest. It was amazing that the actual fire took the house down in less than half an hour.

My DH, Ralph, on the roof of the barn taking video of the whole process. The smoke actually got thick enough to roust him from his loft to join the rest of we mere mortals on the ground. I got a thick blast of it when I was checking to make sure all the chickens were out of the barn. I found a few stragglers who would not leave the barn for anything. As the smoke was too bad to argue with them, I left them to either smarten-up or be chicken dinner. Their choice.


More smoke. I couldn't help but think of all the firemen as boys with infatuation with fire. Probably a leftover thought from watching both my brother keeping the campfires flaming when we were kids and my hubby doing the same thing during other family camping trips. Guys and fire.

The roof fully engulfed in fire now. The heat was intense, even upwind. This is the point where we had very thick smoke at the barn and Ralph had to abandon ship from the roof.

Totally engulfed in flames. The whole burn took less than half an hour from start to finish.

Cooling off the flames on the side of the house facing our barn. This is the point that was scary as debris, mostly just flakes of burnt carbon, were lifted into the air by the heat and flames of the fire. There were even firemen from the Fuels Reduction Team stationed in the pasture behind our places to make sure browned, dry grasses weren't set alight. That was my big concern....our grasses are so dry now it would have only taken one unseen spark for a field fire. Luckily, everyone was really on top of things. Professionals all!


All that's left of the house. The foundation and rubble will be removed by a contractor and the ground shaped and hydro seeded. It will blend in with the rest of the vegetation by next year.
Way back in the Dark Ages, when I did investigations for the US Army on Fort Hood, I did a few fire/arson investigations. That was back when there were no special fire investigators. What I saw and knew then came back to me as I stood there watching how fast this fire took this house. Although there were no furnishings inside the house, this illustrates just how fast a fire can take a structure - set or not. It is something to really respect.

And it showed how professional each and every firefighter was in handling this situation. We never really think of these professionals unless we have a need for them. They aren't seen everyday as police are when they are on patrol. Firefighters kind of get the short end of the stick when it comes to PR. This whole situation made me stop and realize just how much we count on these people...
...and how much respect they deserve.


...and we now have a new view out the sunroom windows! :)

9 comments:

Losing it said...

Cripes!

nurse dragon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin J. said...

Talk about an exciting day. Very cool pictures.

Leigh said...

I've seen these burns before. Kind of chilling on the one hand, yet useful for training.

It's so nice you have land bordering the Parks and Rec. At least you know no one will be building an apartment complex or putting in a mobile home park right next door.

Theresa said...

I can say with some authority those Burns to Learn are extremely important. We have an all volunteer fire depart. and while we see mostly wild fires, getting the guys on a structure burn is priceless as far as experience. Looks like you'll have a wonderful unobstructed view too! Truly a win win situation.
Great pictures.

Kathy said...

Thanks, everyone! :) Yes, it was pretty impressive to watch.
Laura & Mel: Did you see any smoke from your direction? The smoke was pretty much going straight over the pasture/field but when the wind died down, it would head straight up in a big black column.
The only problem with the new view is that now I have to clean my windows. :)

Val said...

Awesome photos, and it must have been quite frightening to see how quickly it was destroyed As you say it will make a pleasant view from the sunroom windows once it has been shaped and resown

Sharon said...

Thanks for taking the time to compose and share that with us. It gives me the willies to see the power of fire and makes me a little sad to see the footprint of lives lived erased just that quickly, planned or not. On the other hand (she had warts - that's what my silly mother would always interject), it so pleasing to see that land returned to its natural state. Whadda day~

Tina T-P said...

Great pics & info - thanks - and a new view to boot! T.