Grass Fire Safety Tips for the Dry Season
I used to have preconceived ideas about what I would grab if we had a house fire. I would want my family pictures, my family Bible, my computer, and of course, my kids, my husband, and my dogs and cats.
In my mind, I would rush through the house yelling for everyone to get out and grab the things I wanted to save.
In my mind, all would be organized as if I have a shopping cart filling it with the things I want to save.
My family, each with a family pet tucked under their arms, would be calmly filing out to our spot in the yard that we have agreed to meet in our fire safety plan.
It would all be a smooth operation, and I would have all that I have always cherished.
Hmmm... What's wrong with this "picture"?
No Burn Warning
Well, the reality of a real fire threw my ideas out the window. My son and daughter-in-law had come to our house to drop off their dogs so we could all go to a pool party together. We knew we would be out late, so they were going to spend the night with us. It is close to July 4th, so when planning the party, we thought we would have fireworks for the kids. Though my kids are adults, they still love their fireworks. The 2012 summer has been exceptionally hot and dry is Southwest Missouri. So a text from our host went out to all invited guests, “No fireworks. It is too dry.” I had to argue with my 19 year old daughter, who was upset because she was just getting ready to go with her 26 year old brother to the firework stand. Her dad and I said, “Use your common sense. Look how dry it is out there.” I was saying these things to her, but I didn’t really think there would be a fire. After all, we had lived through many dry July 4th’s . Reluctantly, she accepted the "no firework" ban, and she and her brother did not go buy any fireworks.
We loaded up our cars with towels, food, and swimsuits, and headed to the pool party a mile away from our house. Between our houses is a field, and it is actually probably a quarter to half mile as the crow flies. Once we got there, we girls set up the food in the pool side cabana then went inside and changed into our swimsuits. It was hot and we were ready to swim.
Things Get Serious Quick
My daughter burst into the house and said, “There’s a fire in the field! Everyone out of the house!” We ran out of the house in swimsuits and flip flops, cell phones in hand. The guys and several neighbors were lined up around the fire’s edge with wet towels, a garden hose, and several buckets of water trying to put out a fire that had been set by the one and only bottle rocket that one of the kids had lit. It was obvious with the wind and high, dry grass that the fire was not going to be contained, and the fire department had been called.
My cell phone rings. “Susan, it’s Lacy [our neighbor]. I went to your house, but no one answered. There is smoke coming over the ridge and the wind is blowing it in our direction.”
“Lacy, I am on the other side of the ridge and the fire department has just shown up. I think they will have it under control before it reaches our houses.” We hung up, but Lacy was not consoled.
A minute later my cell phone rings again. It’s Lacy. “Susan, the fire is almost to the road.”
“What? That is quite a way from the ridge. The fire is moving much faster than I thought. I’ll be right there.”
Reality Hitting Home
The guys were still in the field. We girls in swimsuits and flip flops jumped in the cars and headed to my house. Holy crap, the heat from the fire was unbelievable. The fire was almost to the fence line full of trees with dry leaves. It would only take a spark from the blowing wind over the burning field to catch our yard on fire. The neighbors had their garden hose out and were spraying down the embankment across the road. The fire was moving north and away from their house but straight towards ours. We sprung into action.
Fortunately, we had been watering our backyard to get the grass seed to grow after some dirt work. We had at least four long garden hoses. Our house sets quite a ways off the road, but we have a lot of dry grass that could have over taken us. I called my husband, who was still in the field on the other side. “The fire is to the road right in front of the house. Come home, NOW!”
During a Fire, Organization is Key
I was so glad to see him show up with our son and my husband’s brother. My husband is a retired career Army Engineer Operations Officer who has pretty much been in more dangerous situations than I care to think about. He took control. Several strangers had stopped and were getting in the way. He sent us girls into the house to wet down towels and had all the guys on hose duty. The rest of the people were told to “Get the hell out of the way and out of the smoke.”
While we were in my house, all the fire alarms went off. My husband ran in, “Grab the pups, get into the cars and pull up through the yard to the neighbors. Everyone, go South, now!” We didn’t realize we couldn’t use the road because of the heat and smoke. My sister-in-law and I were handing pups to each person, and we were the last out of the house. The cars were gone. The engulfing smoke was yellowish tan and we couldn’t see through it. I pulled her back into the house, and we ran out the back door with wet towels over our heads, and we ran in a crouched position. Our lungs were burning by the time we got to the neighbors.
Fire trucks and Rescue Teams were all over the field and moving up and down the road spraying everything down. The guys were finally able to pull back with the garden hoses. The fire had been stopped.
There was not one regret on my part about not grabbing any of the things I always thought I did not want to live without. When at the neighbors, I called out every name of each person to make sure they were all there. They were, and I only felt relief for our safety. The house and what it contained are only things that could mostly be replaced, but I couldn’t replace one loved one or pet. When the panic subsided, my heart swelled with thankfulness that they were all accounted for.
Fire Safety Rules for a Dry Season
- Have a garden hose close, and if you have a big yard, have at least 4
- Have 5 gallon buckets
- Have a fire extinguisher and make sure everyone in the house knows how to use it
- Have a fire safety plan for as many scenarios as possible
- Have towels and/or blankets ready to wet down
- Stay low if you are in or near a fire and run out of the smoke
- Do not go back for material items
- Have several different places to gather depending on where the fire is and which way the wind is blowing
- Don’t stop to question; just get away from the fire
Causes of Fire During a Dry Season
- camp fires
- a mower's blade hitting a rock creating a spark
- throwing a cigarette out the window of a car or throwing it on the dry ground
- a dragging muffler that creates sparks
- abuse of matches or lighters
- spontaneous combustion (many hay barns go up in flames this way)