To start – with all the the misery and crap going on in the world at the moment, this would be considered small potato’s…I almost didn’t write it. But I’ve always written about the good, bad and the ugly so….
I’m tired. This will be a long read. Under the heading of ‘it’ll never happen to us because we’re careful’…
Thursday evening Feb24 – Bruce went out for a last check on things and discovered the battery trickle charger (hooked to a battery) had done a melt down, started what seemed a small fire in the room I store my bee equipment in. It wasn’t a small fire, it was already in the wall, already in the ceiling. He promptly emptied a 20 pound fire extinguisher into it. Ran to the house to grab another and yelled ‘fire’. I called it in and snatched up what I thought was important to get out with (more on that later).
We have large extinguishers at every door to every building, and in every building. My son ran down with one, we emptied six to no avail. Jimmy managed to snatch the hose out of the barn (just heavy smoke, no flames yet), I tossed it on our hydrant and realizing we were not going to extinguish the fire, he started hosing down the extension that is attached to the house that houses the water cistern and the parts room. Bruce had already moved both our trucks to the road – excellent thinking on his part – we would have lost them both. He ran for the cabin and slammed the master switch for the hydro – our barn hydro tags off that cabin and he didn’t want it back feeding and starting a fire in the breaker panel in the cabin.
I have never, experienced anything like this. The incredible heat, the incomprehensible speed at which this thing began to consume some 80 feet of buildings. The feed room, the bee equipment room, the layer barn, the milking parlour…as the fire department pulled up (both Pineview and Buckhorn Fire Departments) dropped the big water bladder on the road, dragged their hoses down the driveway – it was almost moot. Well – it was. They tried. Truck after truck dumping water, leaving to refill, returning to dump water, every available fireman/woman – I’m yelling at them the house in on the left, I’m certain it’s going to go up as well, it’s smouldering, the fence is smouldering. Bruce is on the roof trying to direct water onto the siding to no avail. A fireman yells at him to get off the roof – not because he doesn’t want him up there, but because he too, is starting to smoulder. He jumps down and the fireman douses him with the hose.
In any emergency – I am on instant auto pilot. I find the very pregnant cow is fine, she’s in the far back pen laying down and chewing her cud. The steer is fine – he’s up front simply filling his face with hay and apparently thinking it was nice to be warm. I know the chickens are gone. I know one of the cats made it out of the barn – and heard the other not make it out. The geese, on the back side of the layer barn in an outdoor compound are blocks of ice from the spray of the hoses, our driveway is turning into a lake, the house continues to want to catch. The fire Cheifs brother shows up with his drone to try and get a read on the layout of the place – it’s dark, it’s smoky, aside from the flames you can’t see shit. Jimmy takes them around back and they manage to let the geese free to a field as they tackle the opposite side of the buildings.
Finally, some five hours later, all that is left standing right up to the back of the barn, is a skeleton with a few sections of partial roofs. The firemen use their temp sensor to get a read on hot spots. Bruce uses his chainsaw to cut a huge hole in the end of the barn so they can get a ‘look’. It’s still incredibly Smokey. All you can smell is fire, burnt everything. Steam is billowing off of every surface because the temp is heading to -20’overnight. They leave.
We wander around and start double checking, we end up hooking the hose back to the hydrant because there are still hot spots and glowing beams and we’re not comfortable with that. Lots of coughing and gagging and trying not to stumble over debris. By midnight we decide we’re safe enough.
Returning to the house we sit there, still on auto pilot, in some disbelief. We decide we’re fortunate to still have a house. A place to sleep. Livestock. A huge lean-to is still standing. It holds our sawmill, some hay. It’s directly behind two small shelters that are still standing. We have a place to keep the cow and the steer. We still have the guest cabin across the yard, the workshop that has our table saw and a lift of cedar planks. My sons trailer, some distance further back, is fine. We are super thankful that for once, the damn wind wasn’t blowing from the south. We try very hard not to think about what we have lost. Time for that later. We try to sleep, but every ten, fifteen minutes- one of us is up and going outside to look. We’re both up at five a.m. Bruce walks the mess and returns to report it’s still a lot of smoke, still a lot of steam. The wind has returned. Seems okay. We sit for a coffee and decide we will go out and see if there might be anything to salvage.
Suddenly, the dog does something very odd. When he wants out, he sits down next to me and simply drops his head on my knee. But he does not do that, instead, he puts a paw on my leg. Now he knows all four of his massive feet belong on the floor. I ignore him. He gets up, walks around the table to Bruce and does the same. I’m tired. I’m not interested in trying to figure out why he’s forgotten his manners. I get up to let him out. I open the door – our lean-to is fully engulfed in fire, the dreaded wind has blown a spark from somewhere, the flames high enough I think our cabin/saw room is on fire as well. I run for the phone and call it in, pick up the same crap I left the house with not twelve hours prior and simply exit the house and park myself in the yard – Bruce and I both certain we are now going to lose it all – and if they don’t get on top of this, the trees will catch and our neighbors place will be next.
The same volunteers who dropped their dinner forks on the plate the night prior and ran to the fire station to gear up, now drop their morning coffees and repeat the procedure. The road gets blocked, the bladder hits the road, the hoses come out, the same two fire departments show up. By eleven o’clock they have a handle on it – mostly. Burning hay is hard to extinguish. The remainder of the barn is burning again. Bruce puts a call into neighbor to the west who lives a mile away past the big hydro towers and asks if he can possibly walk his excavator over to knock everything down – it needs to be put out. Out out. Not smouldering, not maybe out. Out. It takes half an hour for him to walk the machine over, clear a trail through the bush, crawl it through the ditch and down our driveway- I’ve never been so happy to see something in my life. He promptly starts flattening absolutely everything, the firemen close behind dousing spot fires behind him. At some point they wrap up and leave, excavator guy (Shawn) leaves the machine here, tosses the keys under the mat, tells Jimmy (who can run anything) that if the hay flares up again, he’s welcome to use it.
Jimmy gives it a few hours then climbs in the machine and starts flipping hay and covering it with massive amounts of snow. Just because.
We – are all still on auto pilot. We now tell ourselves that at least we still have a house and a cabin/wood working room. Our trucks are still safe at the neighbors. We’re fine. The cow and steer are fine. Some of the cats are fine. The dog is fine. The geese are fine.
Takeaways. There’s always a takeaway isn’t there. Most notable – fire damage is nothing like Hollywood. No wandering the debris vaguely teary eyed picking up a random picture frame with a cherished photo behind some cracked glass. No fetching up the remainder of a favourite blanket your grandmother crocheted for you. I had some odd idea there would be something to salvage. There wasn’t hardly anything.
I’ll start from the front- the ‘feed room’. A post and beam structure housing alfalfa hay, two one ton bags of grain, several bags of feed, chicken plucker, bags of new insulation yet to be installed, plywood, a brand new five speed transmission that goes in Bruce’s old Ford…and miscellaneous. Salvaged: our trailer hitches.
Next, the ‘bee room’. Three freezers full of beef, pork, chicken. All of my bee supers, brood boxes, drawn comb, my honey extractor, cabinets, a desk- my toolbox full of tools I stored there when I retired from building transmissions, fifteen dozen wide mouth pints I use for butter. The milk bottles from my grandfathers dairy. Salvaged: two partially frozen roasting chickens (fed to the cats), a minuscule handful of tools retrieved only after we managed to cut the wreck of toolbox apart to look. Zero sign that there were any freezers in that room, or anything else for that matter.
Next, layer barn. Salvaged: zero. No sign of even a layer carcass.
Next: milking parlour/barn. Salvaged: the sink, a jacketed wood stove no longer safe to use. The end of two hoes. No sign of the water pump, the water barrels, the workbench, any building tools. No head gates. No compressor, no vacuum pump for the surge milker. No bench vice.
Next, two outside enclosed sheds, gone. Next: the pole barn (lean-to) that houses our hammermill, our sawmill, hay, grain, horse stocks. Salvaged: Nothing.
And of course the zillion things I can’t be bothered to list – we all do it. If it doesn’t belong in the house it gets pitched in one of the barns.
Takeaway: we have all at one time or another I’m sure, discussed what we would grab should we have to get out because of a fire. Well – my house was not on fire, but I’ll tell you what I had ‘time’ to grab. Mine and Bruce’s cell phones, my purse,and my laptop. Bruce grabbed an armload of winter outerwear – he thought we might be sleeping in the truck before the night was done. We tossed it all on a garden bed and there it sat. I grabbed the phones because that’s how I communicate, pay bills, bank. The reality of it is – we had other things to do, fire extinguishers to operate, a hose to hook up, livestock to find. The following day when the lean-to went up? I grabbed the same items and walked back out the door with them. We always had some idea we would get the firearms out of the house – sure, if you have time to jockey the stupid lock on the cabinet and pack armloads of them out. Ammo – the box weighs at least a hundred pounds. Photo albums – really? I’ve literally dozens of them. Important papers – yes, in a pinch I could have grabbed the file box. I’m ruthless with my paperwork – never have more than a file box worth. Mementos, do-dads, anything else, forget it.
Incomprehensible. The destruction. The absolute lack of anything recognizable. Kicking about the mess – I’ve found one blob of melted glass – and considering the temperature at which glass melts, I now understand why I’ve yet to find even a hint of an entire standard transmission. Or a hint of much else.
The cleanup. Its extensive. One foot in front of the other, by Monday I had the scrap yard drop a bin. Shawn had spent Sunday with his excavator separating scrap steel/metal from debris. Tin roofing, and much unrecognizable stuff. By Friday – we had loaded two bins. Five tons – they pay a hundred dollars a ton. Now we have a massive pile of debris to deal with.
Those who are wondering – no, no insurance. When you live in a rural area, insurance (if you can find a carrier) is obscenely expensive. In our case, around 5000 dollars a year. Insurance companies do not want to insure outbuildings on a farm, never mind outbuildings that might be storing hay, or grain. The house – we used to have house insurance- but times change. They now will not insure a house that has only wood heat. You must have another source of heat now, preferably gas or electric forced air. We do not. It was a close call for sure.
Will we rebuild…no. We will put up a small cow shed for the cow/calf to get out of the weather. We will convert a spot we used to store firewood, into a spot that will house a half a dozen layers. We will repair the house. There is no rebuilding eighteen years worth of…what we had. We simply don’t have it in us to do so. We tell ourselves ‘it could have been worse’. It’s just stuff.
Are we okay? Yes. And no. We’re off autopilot. We have ‘moments’. Moments when you find everything overwhelming and so much shit. Interspersed with moments where you’re grateful for what you still have. Grateful for the offers of help, grateful for those who are helping however they can (and there are many many people). And everyday you get out of bed and start swinging for the fences again. Because that’s what we do.
Silver linings – a friend picked up the cow and the steer, housed them in some very comfortable quarters. Four days later Buttercup had a beautiful bull calf. Remarkable.
And unbelievably – yesterday, we found a layer hiding out behind the cabin. A little worse for wear…she’s now comfortably hanging out in the goose shelter.
Hindsight: having our barns so close to the house etc – it was such a nice set up because it blocked the miserable winter winds. Kept the back yard from drifting full of snow. Everything was handy, not so far to walk when you’re out checking for baby piglets, or a calf. We’re we to ever build again – all of those buildings would be a big distance from the house. It was an ‘all the eggs in one basket’ having them joined together end to end. Convenient to walk through from end to end without going outside, yes. But had all those buildings been separate, and a distance from each other, we might have only lost one instead of all.
Fire extinguishers. Despite the fact they were of no use in this situation – I will have them recharged and hang them back up. They are invaluable in some situations, I wouldn’t be without them. Had we not had them I would have forever wondered if we could have made a difference. As it was, a fireman commented on the fact that at least we were prepared best we could be and had tried.
Well, I will close this out. Next time I write I will hopefully have an update on some progress.
Please take care, all of you 🙂