October 2nd, 2012
My husband and I had just finished eating lunch. He was getting ready to go meet with DNR (Department of Natural Resources) at the local gathering place in our little town. The pager, since my husband is not only in law enforcement but he’s also a volunteer fire fighter, was going crazy. There were plenty of red flag warnings for that fateful day. It was hot, dry, and super windy. It is a day that will live in our hearts, minds and psyches for many years to come.
Let me go back.
I had just flown back into town that Sunday after spending 10 days with my parents in San Diego, California. I flew out to be with them since my mother was going to have a total hip replacement. She’s 71 years old and honestly, we were all concerned about her health…and whether or not she would make it through the grueling surgery. I hit my knees the day of her surgery, in my old room, crying out to God that He give me a little more time with her. I begged that if He decided to take her that day, if it was her time, the He let her know that her family loved her. She came out of surgery with flying colors. She is well on the path to recovery. Amen and Amen.
The night before I flew out, my mother had a particularly bad night. For a woman who is used to doing everything on her own, it was humbling for her to have to ask for help to even use the bathroom. My dad went to sleep at 9; my mother at 9:30 and I stayed up until 11 because I was finishing laundry. I wanted to be completely packed so that my dad and I would only have to get ready and stick my luggage in the car and go. At midnight, I could hear my dad and mom yelling at each other. My mom had had an issue, got upset and was yelling. My dad was trying to find some pills for her…and he could not. We finally got her calmed down and back to sleep.
My dad and I sat next to each other on the couch. It was now a little past 1 am, my flight would leave at 6:30 am.
“What time you want to leave?” He asked gruffly.
“Give me an hour to get ready,” I replied.
He nodded. “We’ll leave at 2:30.”
We left at the designated time. I got to say goodbye to my mom. I hugged her hard. I had not seen my parents for two and half years. I don’t know when I will see them again. I live 3000 miles away. It’s not as easy as it once was to go and see them.
My dad stayed with me at the airport until about 4am. We talked about my mom and her recovery and what his role was going to have to be with her.
When I arrived in Grand Forks, I was exhausted. I had had less than an hour of sleep in 36 hours. I was literally falling asleep as my husband drove us home. We received our first phone call about a fire on Pembina Trail on our way home. Our neighbors, adopted parents and grandparents, had also been in Grand Forks and they advised us that there was a fire on the road we would take home. We would have to go around. Not a big deal. We would just take the long way around.
My husband is amazing. He made supper for us, let me sleep for two hours (though, he didn’t have a choice since I totally passed out on our bed the moment I walked into our room and dropped the stuff on the floor) and got the kids ready for school for the next day.
Monday is a haze. I slept in. Tried to get bills, laundry and everything else organized after being gone for almost two weeks. My husband did an amazing job…but there are things that I pay attention to that no one else does. Sigh…such is the life of a stay at home mom, I suppose.
Tuesday dawned clear and bright. Warm and windy. Beautiful fall weather boding of beautiful things for a lovely October. My husband and his colleague were discussing the fire on Pembina Trail and the fact that the conditions were ripe for a fire bug. The fire department they both volunteer for had issues with a fire bug in the spring…would the fire bug rear his ugly head? If he did…it would be bad. After my husband’s colleague left to check something out, we had lunch and he took off as well. I had just poured another cup of coffee and the pager started going crazy.
I overheard the dispatcher calling Karlstad Fire Department to the site of Sunday’s fire so they could monitor the situation with DNR. Okay, no big deal. There was a fire in Viking. Another fire had sprung up in another town. Typical.
Then I saw smoke and called my neighbor, Corienne. Where was the fire? It’s in the swamp she says. Hmmm…well, the swamp is far enough away. Since I have only lived in this area for 2 years, I did not realize that MY swamp is also the same swamp that borders Pembina Trail. How could I be so stupid? MY WHOLE TOWN SHARES THE SAME STUPID SWAMP! I ask her if she thinks it’s serious? She doesn’t know she says. She will have her husband call me when he gets back from in town. Okay, I say.
About ten minutes later, after listening to the pager go off like crazy and watching the smoke rise into the clear blue sky I receive a phone call from my neighbor, Wayne. What’s going on, I ask. Well, he says, you might want to get your hoses out and hook them up. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to get the water going just in case. Okay, I say. My 3 year old daughter is already dressed and is watching cartoons. I tell her to stay inside and out-of-the-way. I go outside, unhook a hose from up front and drag down to the back yard. I pull it out to the middle of our back yard which goes all the way down to the other street where my neighbors live. He then advises me that I should lean a ladder against the house and hook a hose up there too. We might need to hose down the shingles on the roof. Hmmm…going from bad to worse.
After running around and doing that stuff, I noticed something bad. Real bad. The wind had shifted. Instead of blowing northwest, it was now blowing northeast. Crap. My neighbor went and picked up her mother in law, Vivienne from the local assisted living home. When she was back, Vivienne went to my house to sit with Eve, my daughter. I asked Wayne, since he’s an insurance agent, what should I get ready? How many days does he think we will be out of the house? Documents, he says. Insurance papers. Clothes, money and pictures.
At 1:40, I received a phone call saying they were evacuating the school and that the kids would be put on busses and brought home. I heard later that the school was completely evacuated in under 9 minutes. Amazing. I waited until 1:45 and the kids were not home. I then received a phone call from my daughter letting me know they had been evacuated behind the local furniture store, Germundson’s. Are you going to pick us up, my daughter wants to know. No, baby. I can’t. I tell her. Then I ask her where her brother and sister are. She says they are on another bus. Damn. They are not together. In between this conversation, I am busy getting socks, underwear and money from my daughters’ rooms downstairs. Any important jewelry they might need. I run upstairs and throw these items in the back of my van. I had moved the van outside and left the keys in the ignition. I put the keys to the trailblazer in the ignition as well.
By this time, the smoke is thick and brown and is really pushing toward our neighborhood. Corienne has already gotten Eve and Vivienne out of my house and has them in her van. I gather all of our important documents from upstairs, clothes, toiletries, money, guns…and run outside to put it in the van. Now, the thick brownish red smoke is literally rolling over the roof of my house. My neighborhood is almost dark from it and the stench is choking. I run back inside my house and grab my husband’s laptop and the dog in her crate and run up the stairs. My neighbor comes over and asks if I need anything else. I say no. I run out the door and forget to close the garage door. The DNR and fire department are literally outside my house and they have just disced my front yard. One of the guys I know yells at me, “Mo, you gotta leave now!” I look at his bleak expression and believe the worst. Our neighborhood is a goner. I put the dog in the van and as I am backing out of my driveway, I watch floating debris fall from the sky and land in the neighbor’s yard. It is on fire.
We end up across the highway. I can see that my husband has set up a perimeter around the town. He can’t talk with me. I don’t know where my kids are, I just know that they have been evacuated. We move further down the highway to a neighboring property. I walk up the highway to talk with my husband and realize I left my wedding rings at the house. After rushing through trying to get everything we would need…I leave the thing that is super important to me. My wedding and engagement ring. I am devastated. “I forgot my wedding rings,” I tell my husband in a bit of a hysterical yell. He looks at me, his eyes kind, “It’s okay.” He hugs me and then tells me he’s got work to do. His face is now impassive. He’s now in Law Enforcement mode.
We notice the wind is now hitting east and the we keep hearing our street is gone. Wiped out. We move from our location because the fire is coming right at us, further down the highway. I finally hear from my daughter that they have been moved again…and they are being moved to another town because where they are is right in the line of fire. We literally are on our knees on the side of HWY 59, praying…crying out to God that He will protect our homes and our loved ones. We pray and we cry and we thank God for his wonderful provision. We form groups of prayer and we come together on that highway to be a community of bedraggled survivors.
I wish I could give you a further time line after that, but I can’t. It was very chaotic and I am trying to remember things from a while ago. My best friend ended up picking up my kids and taking care of them over at one of her church member’s house. We have been told multiple times that our street is gone. I did not hear from my husband…except for the occasional call outs on the radio that I knew were him because of his call sign…for almost 5 hours.
I found out my husband and the volunteer fire department saved our neighborhood. Fire literally was in my back yard and came right up to the back side of my neighbors garage. If it wasn’t for my husband and his determination to not let our neighborhood go, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story right now. It was that.BAD.
We are finally allowed in our neighborhood. Literally, I was still putting hotspots out in my back yard. I took my neighbors to get something to eat at the local gas station since they had nothing to eat all day except for some crackers. I still have not heard from my husband and don’t know where he is. I go up to one of the other guys I know who work for the same agency he does and I ask them to call Papa 6 on the radio and give him a message that his wife and kids are back home. The guy proceeds to pull out his CELL PHONE and call him. I about lost it. Poor guy. I looked at him, with 2(!!!) cell phones in my hand and say, “If I wanted to reach him on his cell phone, don’t you think I would have done that already? Please call Papa 6 on your radio and let him know that his wife and kids are at home.” The guy looks at me…and I am sure at this time I was pretty scary looking: ratty hair, ash covered…a little funky smelling. Yeah, I was that woman. Little bit of crazy in her eyes. Oh yeah. I was that woman. He does as I ask and I walk away.
The next day we receive a bit of rain and snow. A miracle! The next day we have a blizzard! All the power goes out. We prayed for rain and got a blizzard instead.
We survived. And the whole town smelled for months. But we made it through. I believe 6 houses were lost and more outbuildings were destroyed…but my neighborhood, directly in the line of fire was not lost! And not a single life was lost. I don’t even think there were any injuries reported from all the law enforcement and fire fighting personnel who helped out.
I am thankful for God’s protection and His provision. He heard us cry out to Him. I know He was with us that day the Devil came to play.