Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hasty Brook Fire

Memorial Day Weekend will stay in my memory forever. Lots happened but I'm hoping to share the lessons we learned about fire safety. Bonfires in the fire ring are a big part of our time up there. They are enjoyable on many levels but mostly they are a time for conversation for us. Art and I had a bonfire Saturday morning, burning some punky wood that he had cut a few summers ago. We had cut some trees last month to prepare the site for our garage and we wanted to burn up the older wood and stack the newly split wood to dry. We let the fire burn all the way down to ashes and decided to drive over to our nearest neighbors to visit for a bit. We did not douse the ashes with water. Mistake number one. While visiting we smelled smoke but really didn't think much of it. The neighbor pointed out the DNR (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) fire spotter plane flying overhead. Feeling uneasy, we headed back. We were gone for less than an hour. As we drove up our long driveway the smoke was thick and we knew we were in trouble. We have a clearing with woods on three sides. The fire was on all three sides.

Art jumped out of the truck running toward the fire and I drove like a maniac back to the neighbors to ask for help. They followed me back with shovels and rakes. In the photo above you can see that we had piled more dry wood near the fire ring to burn later in the day. Mistake number two.

The area to the north of the fire ring is a thick stand of small aspen mixed with beaked hazelnuts. It's so thick you can't walk sideways between the growth. The fire was heavy in here. Luckily in this are it was primarily grass and leaf litter burning. This was the area that I was working. The neighbor told me to shovel the fire back into the black- meaning move the fire back to where it had all ready burned. At one point I felt panic as I realized that there was fire burning on all sides of me. I walked through the low flames and kept on shoveling. Fortunately I was wearing jeans and sturdy shoes. I was still scratched and bleeding when all was done.

The fire extended down the hill on all three sides beyond what we could originally see. The four of us just kept shoveling. We bring a 50 gallon water jug up there when we go but don't have a well so there is no source of running water. The creek is about 20 feet below our camp site and at least 50 feet away. There was absolutely no time to haul water from there. About 20 minutes into it, it seemed we had gotten most of the grass and brush fire out. Two DNR water trucks arrived with four fire fighters. Without any talk, they went to work to make sure they could contain the fire.

This picture above show the scariest part of the fire. There are two birch clusters here with a spruce tree behind them. When we drove up the birch trees on the left were burning at least 30 feet in the air. The red object in the photo is a big metal bell. The burning bark eventually burned itself out and thankfully the trees were healthy and green and the wood didn't burn. The fire fighters were very concerned about the high flames though as they can send off bits of fire to blow away and cause secondary fires. There were several large spruce trees in the burn area but luckily none caught fire.

The fire came within just a few feet of this downed spruce. This tree went down last fall in a wind storm. The way it fell, the top half is hanging about 15 feet above the ground at the creek level, making it very difficult to cut up. The wood and needles are dry and if it had caught fire it would have gone up like a roman candle.

Another area where we were fortunate that a spruce didn't burn. The ground drops off past where the burn shows and the fire continued down the hill.

Here you can see just how close the fire came to our camper. The fire fighters also spent a good deal of time chopping open a dirt pile containing the stumps and roots that the bulldozer guy pushed out of the way when he built our driveway and clearing a few years ago. The fire had gotten down under ground and peat and wood were burning deep in the pile. The fire fighters also cut down several birch snags that were burning on the inside. One in particular was white and untouched by flames on the outside but had burned on the rotting inside all the way up so that flames were shooting out of the top. They were actually able to push that snag over, bust it up and get the fire extinguished. Smoldering stumps were also a worry. Once all of the flames were out they poured many gallons of water on the smoldering stumps and that smoking dirt pile.

When the danger was over, one of the trucks left for a refill and another call. The smoke spotting plane was radioed and released. Two fire fighters stayed for quite a while checking and double-checking for hot spots. The crew chief, once he could relax a little, spent some time walking the perimeter of the fire, showing us what to look for so we could continue checking for smoke and heat. He said it was clear that the fire had originated in our fire ring and believed that the swirling winds had picked up glowing bits beneath the ashes and blew them to the nearby wood pile. He offered suggestions to prevent such a thing from happening again.

Never leave ashes unattended. Period. Douse the ashes with water.


Don't stack wood within 15 feet of a fire ring.


Don't leave old snags standing near a fire ring. We had just discussed these snags the evening before. They are bird magnets BUT there are lots of them in our woods so these will go.


Clear the ground around a fire ring of all organic material for at least 10 feet. We put ours in 3 years ago and the ground was sand and gravel then. Each year however, grasses and weeds seeded, grew and died. That was enough to burn. We need to pull anything that grows to keep the gravel bare.

Make sure to have at least some water handy- enough to put out the fire in the ring.


Have tools available to put out a small fire (shovels and/or rakes)


A few hours later a conservation officer arrived to look over the damage. He only issued us a warning because the fire had started in a fire ring. If the fire had started as a brush pile burn we would have been ticketed (felony) and it would have cost BIG $$. It's pretty likely that we will be charged the cost of the fire fighters' time and consumed resources. Fair enough. I am eternally grateful for their help. Art and I and the neighbors were able to contain most of the fire, but we wouldn't have been able to handle some of it. The fire crew came again Monday morning to feel for warmth. They will check it again today.

They estimated that only a little over a tenth of an acre burned. Small compared to the other fires they fought last weekend, but huge to my heart.

I know how very lucky we are.

But I get physically ill thinking about what could have happened. I will never relax around fire again.

I came away with cuts and scratches and a cough from the smoke. Art was wearing shorts and has a few decent burns and blisters on his legs and hands. Thankfully we were both wearing sturdy shoes but the soles are burned. No one was hurt, the camper didn't burn.

Feel free to scold me. We should have known better. But if one person can learn from our mistakes- I'll feel better.


Thank you to neighbors Mark and Rene who without hesitation ran to help us.

Thank you to the DNR for spotting the smoke, and for calling in help.

Thank you to the DNR fire fighters for doing your jobs so well, and for the kindness and reassurance you showed us afterwards.


Richard said...

Look on the positive got a lot of brush cleaned out. Now it's time to spread a lot of wildflower seeds and like nature take over.

Linda in Erie said...

It is so nice and green up there you'd just not think it would be easy for a fire to start. Growing up in the tinderbox of California, fire was always scary and everyone was so wary. I'm not as careful here in PA with BBQs etc because of all the moisture but I can see that would be a mistake since it happened to you with all that greenery around. I'm so thankful your camper was spared and you guys didn't get seriously injured. What a great job the DNR did. Quick on their toes, real pros at what they do. I hope the grass will soon cover the burned areas and it will look pristine again.

Deb said...

OMG Lynne, what a scare! I always find it hard to believe a few hot coals in a fire ring could start something big, but this is a good reminder that it can happen. I'm glad you guys are okay. In a couple weeks you probably won't be able to tell the difference, Nature will take over and green everything up.

We need more rain!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

For decades, I've spent a fair part of each year sitting around a campfire somewhere. It's so easy to overlook the potential danger, because a little campfire is so cozy and friendly, the cheery yellow-orange heart of the camp.

But I've also been smack in the center of a grassfire burning out of control and so fast up a long slope that you almost couldn't outrun the flames. I've been around serious forest fires in Michigan and North Carolina. And I've assisted in several controlled prairie burns here in Ohio, including one that "got away" from the team of experienced workers within minutes after starting it off, and came roaring up the hill a quarter-mile away in seconds, threatening to take out all the parked vehicles, jump the road, and wreak God knows how much destruction on the farmhouses and people therein on adjacent properties.

Fire is always, always dangerous, and I'm so glad you and your husband and those who helped you came out safe, and that the damage to your property was relatively minor. None of us can ever be too careful around fire, and your photos and firsthand account is a much-needed reminder of that fact.

HellZiggy said...

Scary! I'm so glad you guys are both alright! You really were lucky with how many of the big trees were spared.
I won't scold you because accidents do happen.
I will tell you to look on the bright side of all this. Fire is neccessary for healthy forest growth. You will be amazed by how green the area is next year as you get to watch a whole new Hasty Brook grow up.

~other Sharon

HellZiggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi Lynne, WOW!! you sure are
having adventures lately! I am
so sorry to hear of your fire
but am glad you and Art didn't
suffer any more serious injuries
than you did. Hats off to your
neighbors and the DNR for all
their brave assistance. Like
Richard said, look on the positive
side and watch that new growth
spurt up. I second Deb's motion:
"We need more rain."
Hap in New Hope

Beth said...

No scolding from me, Lynne. Just lots of hugs and healing energy. That was qite a scare and my heart goes out to you and Art. I am glad it wasn't worse and I am glad you not only learned a lesson, but shared it with the rest of us so we can learn, too. Thank God you and Art are okay. And Hasty Brook will be okay, too.


Susan Gets Native said...

Oh, Lynne! My heart!
No scolding. I think you and Art are scolding yourselves, so I won't add to the noise.
I'm glad it was contained. I'm glad you and Art are okay. I'm glad the camper didn't go up.
To echo Richard: use the area that burned to start some new habitat. Something pretty that will be a good food resource for the critters.
Love you.

Eve said...

That was a tough lesson Lynne. I'm thankful no one was hurt bad, I'm sorry you were hurt and troubled. I have a fear of fire. We were talking about burning a pile here but now, because of you, I will rethink it all.
Thank you for not being afraid to post.
I also agree with Richard...sometimes the woods just need a good cleaning.

Montanagirl said...

Sure am glad you're okay. Fire can be pretty devastating and scary. Glad it all turned out as well as it did for you.

Anonymous said...

We are grateful that you are safe, no scolding from us either, from the sounds of it you have learned a lesson and will pay your dues. Thank you for letting us know everything is ok.

jalynn01 said...

Oh Honey, I feel for you! I'm so glad all worked out and you and Art are safe and sound. Never too late for lessons to be learned. My husband and his father were famous for burning brush, and it getting out of control. a few times the fire company had to be called and I was out there with a rake or I know exactly how you felt.It is a very scarey feeling.

Mary C said...

Oh Lynne - I'm so glad you, Art and your neighbors are OK. I'm sure you feel really horrible about causing the fire - big lesson learned! You are so blessed that everyone was spared as well as your camper. Well, now that a portion of the land has been cleared, is it time to start building yet? ;o)

Marsha said...

I am so glad that you are safe and the fire didn't not spread into the beautiful northwoods. Nature does have a way of healing it's wounds and in a month or two you will never know this took place except for when you douse your embers with water.

Tina said...

I'm so glad that you and your hubby weren't seriously hurt..thank goodness your fire fighters and neighbors were able to help you out!! Life's lessons are always scary and you were brave to post this so that others could learn. Fires are very upsetting events. But, it's time to plant some tiny new trees and seeds, allowing this nasty experience to become a that you used to help others learn..Thanks!

KGMom said...

Good grief--no scolding at all. Just a BIG sigh of relief that you & Art are safe, and that your lovely place at Hasty Brook is safe.
The best lessons are those learned with minimal damage--but major impact on the brain. NEVER do that again--says the brain to everyone!

Anonymous said...

Thankfully we have never had such an experience. I am thinking you and Art are lucky and nobody was really hurt bad. Take care of yourselves.

NatureWoman said...

Phew, Lynne, I'm glad you and your family and camper weren't hurt at all. Phew!

NCmountainwoman said...

No scolding at all from me...just long distance hugs and sighs of relief. I know you are beating yourself up over this incident, but please realize we have all done such things, usually without any bad consequences. So it could have happened to any of us.

I join you in being so grateful that both of you are safe and sound except for some relatively minor injuries.

Now it's time to forgive yourself, wipe your nose, and smile that it's over and you are fine.

Larry said...

I'm sure that I have been careless with fires at times-in fact I know I have.-This will be a good warning for me to be more cautious.-I'm glad it turned out okay in the end. Interesting to read but an unfortunate way to come up with a post.

Shellmo said...

I'm just glad that you and your hubby are oaky Lynne!! You posted some good tips - and now I'm going to double-check our fire ring thanks to you!!

KatDoc said...

Oh, Lynne, hon --- Great big hugs from Ohio! I'm so glad you are all OK and that there wasn't too much damage. thank goodness for the smoke-spotting plane, the neighbors, and the fire fighters!

Fire scares me, and I am always so careful, but accidents can happen. I had one little fire start to get away from me when it began burning the dried thatch under the grass. Because all was green around it, I thought I was safe. Now, if I start a fire, I always have a charged hose ready and waiting.

Sending positive energy your way,

Kyle said...

Oh, Lynne -- when I first read the title of your post my heart sank before I could even click and read. I am SO happy to hear that you and Art are both okay! A fire like that can be such a scary thing.

Luckily, the trees and vegetation will grow back. And as you said, you learned a lot from the experience. No scolding here, just happy prayers of thanksgiving that all turned out as well as it did!

Duckie said...

Hey at least it wasn't 15 acres. I feel for you. I know I was sick to the pit of my stomach after our little incedent but just know it goes away after awhile.

John said...

That must have been scary! I 'm glad you were able to contain it without too much damage.

Amy said...

I'm so glad this story has a happy ending. Glad everyone is safe and it wasn't worse! I will share this story with my dad who has been nonchalant about fire safety in the past.

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Wow,that's too close for comfort.I am so glad no one was seriuosly hurt.

Anonymous said...

It's scary just reading this, I can't imagine what it must have been like to be there. Thank God no one was injured.

As for scolding, you seem to have that covered without my help, so I'll concentrate on good wishes to you, Art, and the land itself.

LauraHinNJ said...

My goodness Lynne!

I'm so glad the damage wasn't any worse.

Hard way to learn a lesson, huh?

cindy said...

Lynne, we're glad to hear you and Art are ok. I can't imagine how terrified you were! We're glad no one suffered a heart attack or slipped and fell or broke a bone or was burned more seriously. My heart goes out to you. Life changes so quickly sometimes. So many of us have done the same thing, walked away from hot ashes, thinking the fire is out. When you think of the number of people who had a campfire burning this past weekend... No scolding here. But for the grace of God... Take a deep breath. It's over now and everything is alright.

Mary said...

I'm just glad you weren't far away when it happened. If you had packed up and left for home it might have been much worse. Gee, I'm glad you are all OK.

I'm the daughter of a Baltimore City Firefighter. Because of that, I respect and fear fire - to the point I'm usually afraid to start a grill!

What a scare,


Jayne said...

Holy cow Lynne... realized I was holding my breath the entire time I was reading this as I did a huge exhale at the end. So glad it turned out as well as it did and that you all were not hurt and Hasty Brook is none the worse for the event. Whew. A good lesson for us all. Hugs to you and Art. Hope the adrenaline has subsided a bit.

Bird Girl said...

How scary, Lynne! I can only imagine the emotions flooding your brain during this near disaster! Thank God, you didn't leave and go home. Everything turned out the best possible way and you did indeed learn a lesson you will never forget!

Vickie said...

Oh my goodness, Lynne. I'm so glad you and Art are safe. What a terrifying experience. I couldn't help but feel the intensity while reading your account, and a deep gratitude for the quickness and knowledge of fire fighters.

Wisdom sometimes comes in these packages and sharing your experience may help a whole world of others. I'm grateful that you're safe and your beloved Hasty Brook still stands. Both nature and your heart will be good as new soon.

Susan said...

Lynne, I'm so happy that it wasn't any worse. We had a very similar incident when I was a kid. Our family had a campfire which we (apparently) didn't put completely out and a couple of hours later the woods were on fire. It was in an area that was very hard for the fire trucks to reach, but somehow they managed to put it out (after 10 or 12 hours, I think). We walked that land for days afterward looking for little fires. Very scary. I'm glad you are all OK!

possumlady said...

WOW! What a scary event!! I'm echoing others here that I'm so glad that there weren't any serious injuries or damage. Do those fire spotting planes fly over every day? If not, what a stroke of luck!

Very hard lesson to learn but you also informed so many others to be extra careful--so a big hug and a big Thank You!!

Carolyn H said...

Oh, my gosh, Lynne. I'm offline for a day and come back to read this!

Thank heaven it was no worse. Thank heaven everyone is okay.

Fire is the one thing that scares me to death about living in my cabin.

I'm just glad you are all okay. Fire can take hold so very, very quickly, almost in the blink of an eye. And it's tricky about hiding too. I hope that's the last of your excitement for a while.

Carolyn H.

RuthieJ said...

Oh Lynne, seriously, how were you to know that something like this would happen??
It could have been so much worse and thankfully it wasn't. I'm just glad you and Art weren't hurt badly and all your posessions are still OK.

Red said...

That's why these are called accidental fires. I'm so thankful that you and Art are okay and even Hasty Brook is just fine! It could have been so much worse. Good quick thinking prevailed and thank God for your neighbors too.

And now you know what not to do.

Anonymous said...

OMG, what an experience. As several have said here, look now on the bright side - no one was injured, you've learned a lot, and actually, fire has its beneficial side, so the vegetation will come back fairly quickly.

Ruth said...

You mentioned several things I did not know about the spread of fire in a bush. I am glad you and your belongings are safe and that the fire did not spread further. Thanks for sharing.

Owlman said...

Hi Lynne,

Wow, what a scary experience! As you know I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for over 10 years now and I can’t imagine fighting a fire in jeans and sneakers. You guys obviously did a great job containing the fire and it could have been a lot worse. Don’t beat yourself up over this incident. In my experience most people underestimate the power of fire. You mention how fast the fire spread and that is spot on. Fire moves like water and even though we use the expression “spread like wild fires” you really have to see fire in action to really understand how accurate this expression is.

Sadly many people are careless when it comes to fire safety both in camping situations as well as in their own homes. People often have the mindset that it will never happen to me. In your case I think it was just a combination of many factors that came together to create this hazardous situation. Accidents happen and this was an accident. Someone once told me that the only people who don’t make mistakes are people that don’t do anything at all. I have used these as words to live by and when I make a mistake I dust myself off and do my damndest not to repeat it. Life has many hard lessons and this is one of those. Luckily you came out pretty unscathed and not only have you learnt a lesson, but you’ve made many others aware of the dangers that lurk below having a cozy warm campfire. I would urge everyone to use the same caution in their homes by having smoke and CO detectors in appropriate areas. Also make sure that you have extinguishers close at hand. In my case I have detectors all over the place and WAY WAY too many extinguishers. The key is to prepare for the worst so it hopefully never happens.

Ok, so as I climb off my soap box I am forced to look at the palm of my hand and chuckle. As I mentioned before we all do stupid things. My recent episode whips the pants off your fire. I was changing the wheel on my riding lawn tractor and used a small flat head screw driver to push the locking pin back into the place. As it snapped into place my screw driver hurtled itself across to the palm of my other hand holding the wheel in place. I was pushing pretty hard to get the pin back on and let’s just say it hurt like hell and required a visit to the emergency room where I had to tell MANY MANY different people that I stabbed myself with a screwdriver. Gladly the stitches are out and I’m pretty close to normal again…. as close as I’ll ever get. All the best to you and Art and I hope you guys are ok.

Q said...

Dear Lynne,
I am so glad you and Art are okay. My goodness how scary. I have always been very respectful of fire and water....
Such an adventure. Sending lots of understanding and hugs! You have great neighbors!

The Early Birder said...

Dearest Lynne, an aweful experience for you all but I'm glad that you & Art are ok. As everyone says 'nature will reclaim' with a little help and your 'scars' will repair & fade away. Please don't beat yourselves up over this unfortunate accident. Lol Frank & Anita.

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Glad you're fine. Heckuva way to learn those lessons huh? Take care.

dAwN said...

So sorry you had that fire at you precisous Hasty Brook.
How Lucky you were that your camper didnt burn.
I worry about that when we leave our motorhome at some camgrounds. Fire rings around just takes some dry material and a few flying embers.
Glad you only had minor scratches and no burns ..I can just imagine how terrible you must have felt.

But maybe there might be silver lining....well an edible lining...Morel mushrooms like burn next spring...see if you might have a few to cook up for dinner.

Anonymous said...

So glad it wasn't worse! Scary! Reminds me of a time when my husband and I were driving on an isolated dirt road in the mountains and came across a camp where a hunter had spent the night. He covered his fire with dirt and left. It was smoldering and smoking as we drove by. We stopped and used our emergency water to put it out, along with more dirt. Even hauled some water up from the creek to be sure it was out. It was in the middle of a little stand of aspen and would have been really sad to see it go up. Accidents happen . . . thankfully, it wasn't worse!

Anonymous said...

Glad you guys are okay. Thanks for writing about the incident. It can happen to anyone, and a personal story makes the point even better. Hugs!

T.R. said...

You've been in my thoughts all week. These are lessons for all of us - thanks so much for sharing - none of us are immune to how quickly things can go wrong.

Glad you live in a place where the community rallies around to help its members. That's a good sign to come out of all of this. I hope this weekend is proving to be a much better one. You are missed.

denapple said...

Kudos to MN DNR! If something like this happened in Ky, it's hard to imagine how long it would take someone to find it. Glad everything worked out safely.

Kathiesbirds said...

Lynne, I missed this post before. I'm so glad I scrolled down! I had no idea you went through all of this! I recommend you get (or borrow) a goat to eat down some of the underbrush. It will help prevent further forest fires that are not caused by you. Years of fire supression have led to these dangerous conditions all over the U.S. I am so glad you are safe and that your land is safe and no one was seriously injured. You must still be shaking!