I am posting this at the request of my mother. I was speaking with her on the phone this morning, and of course the Black Forest Fire (and our possible danger) came up. I talked to her about my feelings for those affected by the fire, and she thought I should share my own, perhaps very different, perspective with others.
Let me just say how absolutely heartsick we are for all of those that lost homes, animals, livelihoods, keepsakes, and so much more in the fire. I have thought a great deal about the tragedy that so many have been facing. Our heart goes out to the friends and family of the couple that lost their lives in the fire. This fire has been truly devastating and tragic. Our thoughts and prayers are with all involved including the firefighters, emergency and support personnel and volunteers.
This fire is the closest we have ever been to a fire evacuation. The Hayman Fire, back in 2003, seemed much worse to me because we had ash on our cars, we had to keep the windows and doors shut, and we had the remarkable but scary blood-red sun. However, the Hayman Fire was not threatening our home or livelihood per se. This fire has been much scarier.
On Wednesday evening, my husband came home and informed me that we were only 7 miles from the pre-evacuation zone for Douglas County and that he would be returning to work that night due to the fire danger. We needed to really think about evacuation, make a plan, and make a record of our belongings, buildings, animals, and equipment. It was in thinking about what we would take and what we wouldn’t and in prioritizing our lists that the gravity of the fire really hit home. I had to think about how we were going to transport some 500 animals, family, necessities, treasured belongings, and keepsakes safely off property and think about where we would go. These thoughts led me to think about the devastation of fire. What does it mean to have a forest fire rage into your life…
So my mom called me this morning and asked if I thought we would be evacuated. I told her I no longer felt like we were in danger of being evacuated. (Disclaimer: I will try to recount the thoughts I had with her while I was on the phone. Please know that my recounting to her is largely anecdotal. None of my “facts” are verified. I am just telling the story from my perspective.) My mother told me that my brother had a friend who lost his home in the fire. I told her that yes, I remembered him saying so and that we knew two other acquaintances that had lost homes.
Then, she told me that they had found two horses (she actually said two bodies, but I heard horses). I told her that I had heard that there were horses both lost and found that people were trying to reconnect with owners. This is how I recall my part of the story:
Yes, people have lost horses and found horses. Some people have posted pictures on Facebook–looking for their horses or looking for owners. This fire hit so quickly, it was absolutely devastating. It’s as if those first 92 homes went up in an instant. Many people had very little chance to collect much of anything or to do more than just let their animals go. The fire was heading south/ southeast that first day and burned a lot of homes. As the fire moved on, some people thought that their houses had been spared, but the next day the wind shifted and the fire double-backed picking off the houses that it had missed the first time around. One lady returned to her house that second day and no sooner did she get there then her neighbor called to say his barn was on fire. She had to just turn around and leave again. Another lady is living in her car at the local Wal-Mart with her 17 chickens and 3 turkeys.
I feel so terrible for the people who lost homes and the people who had to get their horses out. And I especially feel bad for the people with livestock. It is so difficult to move animals, especially in an emotional emergency situation. I was telling my daughter that it was one thing to try to round up horses or sheep or even llamas or alpacas, but can you imagine trying to gather your poultry?
As I said, thinking about evacuating really made me think about the real impact of fire. If evacuated, we would have to move a number of larger livestock, and we are only one household. But, not only do we (as a community) have to think about where the horses, pigs, and sheep, and deer and antelope will go, there are also thousands (millions?) of displaced little animals, as well. At our house we have beautiful blue birds, meadowlarks, blue jays, owls, hawks, chickadees, finches, and sparrows. Those are just a few of the birds here. Where would they go? Would they have the sense to get out? Can they outrun/ outfly the fire? If the fire hit quickly enough, the heat would get the birds long before the flame would. And then, there are chickens…
Here is my thought on it. Let’s assume that horses, sheep and larger wildlife will have the sense to run away from the fire. Let’s also assume that wild birds–being migratory–would also fly away. Probably even Guineas and turkeys might take flight, but I don’t think a chicken would.
Here’s the thing: chickens are domestic animals. They have been bred to live around humans and rely on humans for food and shelter. While they aren’t as stupid as people think they are, they aren’t the smartest animal in the barnyard. Also, chickens don’t fly. They might fly 15 feet or so, but they cannot sustain flight. And while a chicken can run, they can’t run that fast. They aren’t built for running. Then there’s that bit about being domestic.
Let me tell you about my chickens. When I come outdoors, my chickens come running to me. Granted, they are hoping that I’ve brought them some tasty greens from the house, but they still run to me. And they talk to us. They do this purring kind of murmuring almost in chorus. It’s a very neat sound and they obviously like people.
Chickens are very inquisitive and social. If we are out fixing fence, moving things, building, or anything else, we are sure to have chickens around us checking out what we are doing. Today, when I was out cleaning up pine needles and leaves (ever so important now!), I had five or six hens all around me–helping me. They think that you’ve made that pile of leaves just for them, so as soon as you step away from it, they climb on it, scatter (scratch) it with their feet, and start looking for tasty tidbits.
Not only do they seem to enjoy the company of humans, they also enjoy each other and the other animals. Our hens roam everywhere and especially enjoy being in the sheep corral and in with the pigs. They are almost always together and usually hang around in groups of 4 or 5. Yes, it is for safety, but particular birds flock together just like humans do at school or work. At the end of the day, when the sun goes down, the chickens all go into their house together and find a perch or a corner in which to sleep. They do this as a group, both the going to bed and the settling down to sleep. Chickens even announce to the other birds that 1) they’ve laid an egg or 2) they were lucky enough to get a treat (at which point all the other chickens try to take said treat). Remember, they aren’t so smart.
So, back to the fire. I think that if a chicken was faced with a forest fire, she would have very little chance of survival. She would probably run for cover to her safe zone (chicken house) with all of her sisters. They would sit there, hoping, believing that the humans were going to protect them. Now I might be wrong, perhaps they would take flight, but chickens can’t really fly and they aren’t built for running. The same is true for any number of domestic poultry (and other small livestock). Turkey toms can’t fly because they can’t lift their body weight. Some breeds of ducks and geese don’t or won’t fly. So, when I think about the fires, while my heart is breaking for the people, horses, and large animals, my heart is also breaking for the small livestock that may not have much of a chance.
Again, our heart goes out to all of those affected by the wildfire. It isn’t just this immediate devastation that our friends, neighbors, and loved ones face. After the fire, there is rebuilding to be done, fields and pasture that to be replanted, animals to be fed and cared for, lives to be pasted back together. I am overwhelmed and cannot adequately express my thoughts, love, and prayers to all affected. May God bless them.
One final note: I do not want anybody to feel like I am making a big deal of our situation or crying “woe is me.” While we were very near the evacuation zone for Douglas County, the fire was never nearer than 12 to 16 miles away. That’s not a lot, but at the same time it is a lot. I do not profess to have even an inkling of how those in Black Forest feel. I am simply sharing my thoughts after being closer than I’ve ever been before to this sort of crisis.