Too Close to Home
Aug 24, 2017
The grass seed, hay and straw season is in full swing here in the Willamette valley. We've had a really good rain year, and the yields look pretty spectacular, so spectacular that we decided to take a picture of the pup on one of the limbs of the fallen oak we were cutting up. The neighbor's grass seed field, lying cut and in neat windrows, was in the background.
We took this at 1215 on July 10th
It was getting warm, so we called it a day for the chainsaw, and went back to the house for lunch. Hubby drove the tractor, hauling the loaded trailer, and Rosie and I were in the puttputt, doing gate duty. We closed the gate to the south pasture, and pulled into the shade on one of the massive oak trees, to make sure that we hadn't started a fire in the nearly dried grass. Satisfied after several minutes that we hadn't, we headed back to the house.
Just before 1, our good friend and neighbor, Juan, rang my mobile. "The pasture is on fire!!" he said. We both looked out the window to see dark grey clouds of thick smoke boiling up from the area we had been working in. We both immediately went into controlled panic mode.
We had been here before, in October of 2003, when the devastating Cedar Fire ripped through San Diego County. We were one of the lucky ones, as the fire started very close to our home, burned all around us, but we survived with no losses. So, this was all too familiar to us.
It's not a good feeling.
Hubby jumped in the puttputt while I called 9-1-1 as I ran to get the tractor and corral the dogs. He roared out to the south pasture, then called to say it was Frank's seed field, just southeast of us, that was burning. The first response teams started arriving, from Monroe, Junction City, Philomath, Lane Rural, and ODFW. JC's units had to turn around and head back for a structure fire, but eventually returned. Frank was pulling their tanker around the perimeter, trying to contain the leading edge. We sat by our fence line, nervously watching to see if we would need to take action. The wind was in our favor, thankfully, but by the time it was all over, 30 acres of seed, valued at close to $30,000 lay in soggy, black piles.
Going back to the picture of Rosie, this was taken less than 45 minutes later:
Since last Monday, there have been several field fires in the valley. Always a possibility this time of year, farmers like Frank take every possible precaution. They don't put a combine in the field without a tanker at the ready, and make sure harvest equipment is field ready. Operators know what to do in case of fire, and as evidenced by the responses to our local fire, emergency services are tuned up and ready to go at a moment's notice. They surrounded that burn quickly and prevented much greater losses, so hats off to all of the firefighters.
The cause of the fire? Notice the line of 4 power poles crossing the burned area at an angle? A whirlwind picked up a load of dried grass and dropped it on the wires just perfectly. It happens all the time, but in this case, unfortunately, it caused the grass to catch fire, then dropped burning bits down into the field. Pure bad luck, that.
As Frank's son said, no one got hurt, no structures were lost, and the loss was covered. They have since threshed, baled and cleared what was left of the field without incident.
Just a bit too much of an exciting summer's day for us.