Acres of Fire

    “Acres of Fire,” Ensign, July 1981, 46

    Acres of Fire

    When I was about six years old, our family—my parents, my three brothers, and I—moved to Idaho. My father and grandfather had been working on railroad construction, but they decided to take an option to homestead some land in Holbrook, Idaho. Grandfather filed on 160 acres, and dad filed on 320 acres. Homesteaders were required to build homes and live at least three out of five years on their farms.

    I remember how dreary and desolate the new, two-room frame house looked when we arrived. There were no other buildings as far as the eye could see. We had no well, and there were no fences—only sagebrush. But we children were excited, and my brother and I spent lots of time running races from the post that marked the beginning of the south half of the farm to the house.

    The men needed to work quickly to clear the ground and get it plowed and seeded before late fall. Dad had some horses and a wagon, and he bought a plow and a harrow. Grandpa took the wagon and five big barrels to the creek every day to get water, and the horses were driven ahead to get their daily water turn also.

    One day while dad was away from home, mother told us she was going to try to burn off some of the sagebrush on our land. She told me to watch the two younger boys and to help fix something to eat if we got hungry before she came back.

    The field she wanted to get cleared was half a mile long and about that wide. We watched her go and tried to keep an eye on her, but the sagebrush was high and thick and we lost sight of her. We were not afraid, but when we saw that there were fires in more than one place we wondered if she was all right.

    After watching for some time, we could see that the fire was getting very big. Clouds of smoke billowed high in the air, and we soon realized that the flames were coming toward the house. We could not see mother. We ran into the house, since there was no other place to go, but of course we kept running out to look for mother. We were getting more frightened by the minute, and we all cried. I made the boys come into the bedroom, and we knelt down and prayed mightily that our mother would not get hurt and that she would come back to us. Then we cried some more and prayed again.

    Soon we heard her calling to us. We ran outside and could see her running, so exhausted she could hardly breathe. She had been running so fast to get around the edge of the fire and get to us before the fire did that she was not aware the wind had shifted, driving the flames away from the house. I have never doubted that this was an answer to our prayers.

    But mother was a sad sight. Her hair and eyebrows were badly singed. Her face was purple from exertion. Her feet were burned where the fire had burned through the soles of her shoes, and her clothes were torn from running and snagging on the brush. She could hardly talk, but she made us understand that we should bring a basin of water and some towels and help her clean up. We did so, and then helped her into bed—all of us crying from relief and gratitude.

    When grandpa and dad came home, they could hardly believe what we told them. Yet the whole field of 160 acres had been burned clear of sagebrush, and we were all safe. Any of the men in the area would have been glad to get a section of brush cleared that fast.

    People in the valley really made a fuss over this brave, hard-working woman, but mother was more embarrassed than proud. She felt she had done something foolish and had jeopardized her home and family, so we didn’t often discuss it.

    Time has dimmed some of the fear we felt, but those flames coming so close to our little home on the prairie and the prayers we prayed to stop them still burn brightly in my memory.

    Illustrated by Richard Brown