In my post about the fellow who burned down his barn, if I didn't say it I thought it, I was feeling pretty good that in my years of burning pasture I had never called out the fire department. Felt quite good about how intelligent I was with my burning technique.
Going to grass is the preoccupation for me right now, planting corn has to take second place. All the landlords want burned off this year, and it is needed. With 9 out of 10 days being either too wet or too windy, the forecast for yesterday of west winds 5 to 10 miles per hour was all I needed to plan a day of burning, I had in mind to get about 700 acres burned. The first burn went off without a hitch. Our land is laid out in square miles, usually a road every mile, north and south, east and west. These are good barriers for the most part. I had half the section to burn, the neighbors on the other half wanted to burn their north quarter, but after myself and my crew got the fireguard burned between us decided to burn the entire thing. No problem. We fireguarded around the cemetary(don't want the dead people irritated) and my landlords house. Everything went perfectly, within an hour and a half we were ready to move on.
It was noticeable that the wind was not out of the west, and it was more than 10mph, more likely 15, and moved constantly from the northeast to the northwest, shifting about every 10 minutes. I needed to burn the west side of the place the fire pics were taken I posted, and the south 25 or 30 acres along the state highway. That place has a watershed dam, is fenced into 5 different sections,and is seepy all around the dam, plus has alot of buildings. To the south was my dad's haymeadow that he did not want burned, south of that another 40 acres that is not ours, with a house. With the barn fire of Monday fresh in my head, I knew that fire can back downhill through green grass and burn buildings. My original plan was only to burn the west part, but the fire went into dads west half, where he wanted to burn, then backed up onto the dam. As it was going across the dam, we made the snap decision (since we were there and had lots of help), to burn the east part, even though in my heart I knew it was risky. The idea was to burn a fireguard against dads meadow, that would also protect the house to the south. As soon as we lit the guard, the wind switched, and I immediately decided to "abort the mission" and started yelling to put the fire out. We absolutely could not get ahead of it, and it crossed the small meadow down into the timber. At the same time, the fire kept up its steady march across the dam, toward the buildings, cutting cross the wind so it was not moving fast, but still worrying. I decided even though I didn't want to admit defeat, I would call for one firetruck. As I am on the crew, I called a fireman personally, and didn't have the pager set off(to keep it quiet, although everyone I knew was driving by on the highway). We dragged hose into the timber and pretty much got that out, then thought we would try our guard again, as we had a section of the meadow burned already. We wet about a 10 foot swath of the short (4-6 inch) grass down with the firetruck, against the tall grass of the pasture. The idea was to set right against the wet grass and put that south side out, I had abandoned my pickup and garden hose and was now in command of the fire truck. As quick as we set our guard against the wet grass, it crawled right across it and back across the meadow, back into the timber. Looking back north, the fire was getting more dangerous coming across the dam, slow and steady. I called for another fire truck, and took the one we had to try to stop the fire from coming over the dam. We didn't have enough range to squirt water down to the bottom of the dam and out across the emergency spillway, and the ground was too soft to drive up it. We also didn't have enough hose to drag across the spillway. So, we went back to the meadow as soon as the other truck got there.
Stress can bring out the worst in people, and by now I was stressed. I had two houses in peril, my dad chewing nails because his meadow was now about a third burned. My crew wanted to be gone by 1pm because of the "prom" last night, and I had interupted my fellow firemen on their Saturday afternoon activities, also, I had smoke completely covering the highway, which is very illegal. We had a powwow in the middle of the meadow where a majority wanted to cut the meadow in half and burn to the timber with a backburn. Right or wrong, I exploded " we couldn't hold the son of a ........ at the creek, how in the world can we set a backburn in the middle of the meadow and hold it!!!!!!!". I overruled everyone, we set it back at the end of what had been burned and took it to the highway. We were successful, and moved back to the north to take care of the buildings...but.
As we were on the hill above the meadow, trying to guard around the buildings, the fire came out of the timber,in the meadow,and headed at a rapid speed back to the south toward the other house(if we had successfully done what the other guys wanted to do, we would have had the entire timber fireguarded, I still think we would have lost it but it doesn't matter now, they know in their hearts I was wrong). At the same time, the truck I was on that carries 900 gallons of water,ran out. The little truck with 300 gallons, thank God, got to the fire and stopped it. We refilled our trucks out of the lake, and were able to get things mopped up, 5 hours after the fiasco started.
The moral of this longwinded story is I know now that I too, the great fire wizard, can also lose control of a controlled burn. I will never light a fire on a day when the wind is not steady from one direction. When we took the trucks back to the firebarn, we were called to another similar situation, I had much more empathy for the fellow than I would have otherwise. Interestingly enough, when it was all said and done, the wind went dead calm.....never once yesterday did it blow straight from the west at 5-10 mph, as it was forecast to do.