Friday, February 25, 2011

The Night the Barn Burned

I have sat down to write this a couple of times and found it hard to write. I am not going to proof read. We have about 2/3 of the debris cleaned up. We want it gone so the children don't have to keep seeing it. Going through it is hard, but we needed to in order to help us remember what was in the vast amount of belongings we had out there.

Many things happened perfectly to change our normal routines and habits so we'd be up and ready to run. God's hand was very evident throughout. I am very thankful the Lord spared our lives and our home.

We had been fighting the brush fire on our place all day. There were fires all over the neighborhood and in the county. The fire personnel were stretched thin and in high demand. I was told five or six houses and another barn were lost. I know of a car fire plus nine other fires in the county. The wind kept feeding fires and sending embers to start new ones. The VFD could not be here the entire time and as soon as they left, something else would start burning. I called Clint home to help. He had some difficulty getting home because the road was blocked, but he got here.

There were lulls where the wind would go down and we could rest. We talked and joked with most of the firemen. During these slow periods, they rested in the chairs we had put out for them. Emily had seen a fireman in turnout gear earlier and had run to hide. That troubled me for the "just in case" scenario---which almost happened! We took her and Hannah outside so they could get a close up look at the firemen in the turnout gear and realize they were friends, not monsters. Hannah was held and both were fussed over. Amanda took pictures of the stuck fire engine, and the men were very good natured towards her about it. Caleb was allowed to try on turnout gear which made for one happy 9 year old! A cow patty had caught an ember and the younger firemen joked with me about what would happen to my shoe if I went to stomp on it like I had the edge of the brush fire.

During the course of the day, I had moved our chihuahuas to the RV to get them out of the smoke. The RV is parked right beside the back of the house. We moved the potbelly pigs to behind the house and put them in a corner where they'd have protection. The dog pens are lined with thick straw. The fire was going to pass right behind them, so we moved the dog houses, bowls, feeders, waterers, toys, etc into the barn. We were worried the embers would catch the straw on fire.

Because of the high winds, the fires would NOT stop reigniting. Everyone was frustrated!! One of the firemen said "We put it out and then it jumps back up!! It's crazy! We think we have it and then we get another call to a place we've just been!!"

The brush fire behind the barn crept slowly for hours. We all felt the barn would be OK. The VFD came to check on us often to see if we needed help. It looked fine for hours. Then, we had a big blow up that sent big embers flying high and far. We had to run and get Hot Shot out of his pen because the embers were hitting him. That normally cocky pony suddenly became very cooperative and obeyed voice commands! Right after he was moved, I snapped the picture from the barn door and the one of the embers flying that you see in the posts below. That was the last time I was in my barn.

A man from the VFD stopped by within a couple of minutes of that. We watched the fire and speculated on what it would do. Clint, he and I all felt the barn was OK, and the fire would die out as soon as it hit the ditch. Work was done; we could get our weary selves into bed.

The fireman left. Clint stayed outside. I went into the house to get the children ready for bed. Amanda cleaned up Emily and Hannah and put them in the bed. Amanda and the middles started picking up the den before brushing their teeth. Brandon was resting. I was very tired. I walked upstairs, thought about taking off my boots and changing for bed. Instead, I decided to sit for a couple of minutes and then go back outside with Clint. Bethany returned my laptop to me. I had it open on the bed and had logged onto Facebook to e-mail concerned friends that it was over.

Clint came in and said the fire was basically out. He sat down next to me and said something like "What a day!" He said he was going to check on things again and then we'd call it a night. Within seconds, Amanda came upstairs and said "Mom!!! Dad yelled "OH SH..!!!" and took off running out back!! I think he needs you out there!!!" I took my time. I thought the cows were out and he handles them better than I. Later, I realized something in Clint's voice must have scared Amanda because normally, she'd have followed him.

I walked around the side of the house and saw the top of the barn glowing a little bit in the back. It was just a small fire. It was hard to hear Clint. I thought he told me to call 911. I was worried, but not too much. I figured we'd lose some of the things on the second floor of the barn, but the VFD could put it out if they could respond in time. I ran back in the house, grabbed the phone and saw the laptop. I knew we needed prayer because the VFD may have gone a ways to another fire. I took three seconds and typed "OUR BARN IS ON FIRE PRAY, PRAY HARD!" I wasn't even in the house two minutes.

I went back outside and was floored by what I saw. HALF of the barn was engulfed and smoke was boiling out of the front. Amanda yelled "Dad went in there!!! Dad is IN THERE!!!" Time stopped. I could not move, think or speak. Then Clint yelled "I'm OUT! I AM OUT!!" Time started again. I realized the 911 call had not gone through. He told me it was OK; he had called them. He told me the barn was gone. I knew. I was sick about it and went into the house to tell the children.

I walked upstairs. Then I heard Clint SCREAMING "GET OUT!! GET OUT NOW!!! EVERYONE GET OUT!!!" During the actions that followed, he told the wind had picked up again and was blowing the fire right onto the house. The flames were at the very back of the house. I went to help him grab the babies out of their bed, but Brandon beat me to it. I ran downstairs to make sure no one was at the back of the house where they couldn't hear. I never got that far because I saw Amanda taking Joshua, Caleb and Bethany out. Brandon was carrying Emily and took her out the door. Clint had Hannah and was standing on the outside of the open door.

My head knew the children were all out, but my heart was afraid I had missed one of them. I couldn't move, and I could not speak my fear to Clint. We've been inseparable since 1986. That man has always been able to read me like a book. He yelled "They are all out!! Everyone is out; I counted them!! Wendy, GET OUT, GET OUT NOW!" I ran and left the door open behind me.

What I saw next scared me badly. I could see the flames right at the back of my house. My back yard was RED and ORANGE. I KNEW we'd lose our home when I saw it. I ran with the middles to my truck. Joshua, Caleb and Bethany got a good look through the flying, flaming debris of the barn and started screaming in fear. I have never heard any of my children make sounds like that. "I have to get them out of here!!" Brandon put Emily, Hannah and Amanda in his car. Clint ran across the yard between the two vehicles to make sure everyone was safe. He got in his car and we left.

There were people standing at the end of my driveway watching. There was a truck parked in the road, and I was not sure I could turn out of our lane without hitting it. The fire woman yelled that I needed to clear the driveway for the fire engine which had to go further down the road, turn around and come back. I floored it and figured if I couldn't clear the truck, I'd throw it int 4WD and move it into the ditch. I figured they deserved it for parking so close to the lane the fire engine needed to enter. I got by and drove the children to my across the street neighbor's house. I hammered the bell because I needed her to come quick so I could go back for the dogs in the RV. She came. She could see the fire and knew what I needed. She asked me how many of the children did she have. I told her all seven were there. She opened her arms like a mother hen and pulled them to her as she led them into her home. My mind changed gears.

I started running for my truck, but realized it was blocked in by Brandon's and Clint's cars. "The house is gone, Clint." He said, "I know." Me: "I have to try to save the dogs!!" He grabbed me, held tight enough to stop me. I thought he was going to try to stop me, and I was going to argue with him. "Let's pray first," he said. We thanked God our children were safe. We asked him to spare our home and to let us save the dogs. Then we jumped in the car and went back. Even more people were watching.

I saw the fire was still going strong and the house and RV were being showered with embers. I couldn't save the chickens, but I knew I could get those dogs out without harming myself IF no one slowed me down. I also knew without a doubt that if the house was on fire, the RV would go and they'd die. I have great affection for my animals, but I am not willing to leave my children for them. I had the three ways out of the RV in my head. I knew what I was going to do before I took off running. I was worried someone would try to stop me, so I put it into high gear. I heard someone following behind me and then someone else yelled "SHOWER!" I was a little stunned when the water hit me. I thought "The fire is THAT way!" Then I realized they were protecting me from the embers.

I got inside the RV, which was being hosed down. I tried to yank on the big crate to move it straight up and down, but even as I did, realized I'd have to move the dogs into a smaller pen to get them through the door. I started putting them in that, but they kept getting out. I flipped the pen so the door was up and started tossing them like basketballs for time's sake. Clint was there then. I yelled "Help me! Help me!" He said "What can I do?" I said "Catch the dogs!"

I started grabbing and slinging chihuahuas at him. Boots ran out and around my legs. She can be hard to catch. I was scared I'd have to leave her and said "BOOTS! COME ON!" It must have been my voice because she dropped to the floor in submission. I grabbed her and tossed her on top of the other dogs. Clint had to pull them out the door. As I was moving to grab another wire crate on my way out the back door at the same time he was doing that, I looked up and saw men between my house and that huge fire. I remember I was very scared for them. As I moved, I asked God to protect them. I told Him the house didn't matter to me, but those men did. I was in the RV less than 20 seconds.

I was ready to grab an end of the crate and run. There were little legs sticking out at all angles of that crate. Clint remembered the pigs. They were on one of our garden carts. We put the dogs on top and pushed/pulled them to the front yard. Clint asked me "What do you want to do with them?" I looked for a safe place. Embers were flying so thick; people were in their trucks to get away from them. I saw three separate fires in my yard. I saw embers flying all the way to the already burnt tree line up front and realized out loud, "There's no where safe! There is no where in this yard that is safe for them to be." That thought messed up my mind for a few seconds.

Somewhere in all of this, one of us remembered to get Belita (Little Beauty), our house dog, out of the house. Neither of us remember exactly how that happened. It could be one of the VFD did a walk through of the house and saw her. I honestly don't recall how she ended up in my arms.

Clint told me he was going to check on the fire. I didn't want to see it; I sat in the car. Clint came back and told me with amazement "The house is not on fire. I don't know how, but the house is not on fire. It's going to be OK." I looked up at him and said "How?" He said "It has to be God, Wendy, because I just do not know."

There was some point in time that we were told by someone that nothing in or of the barn could be saved. They had to stop putting water on it so they could have enough to save the house.

He left me to go stand with the firemen again. I saw the camera sitting beside me. I picked it up and walked out back. I saw the remaining burning skeleton structure falling. I handed him the camera and left. It made me sick to see that beautiful, old barn gone. I walked back to the car, sat a few minutes, and thought "I am doing nothing productive here. I am going to go comfort my children." I looked at the driveway full of fire equipment and realized I'd have to walk. I grabbed Belita and we went to the neighbor's house. I told everyone I passed "If my husband is looking for me, I am with my children." Some looked at me like I was crazy.

I talked with neighbors for a while until Clint came to get us. We had taken some to a friend's home where they could sleep, but went to get them since the house was OK. We came home, thanked God for our lives and home as a family. We sent the children to sleep together in the den. Clint and I did not sleep at all that night....or the next. The thought of an hidden ember kept us up the first night. The thought of "what if" kept us up the second. As of yesterday morning, Clint has lost 15 lbs since the fire late Saturday night. I've lost weight too, but not that much.

Items in our front yard had ember holes in them. Our garden and several fence posts burned. The children's playhouse and some toys caught fire from the embers. You could not have walked between the house and the fire without the flames surrounding you. Clint, Brandon, Amanda and I saw it. All four of us figured the house would catch fire before we ever got out of the driveway. The only smoke smell in the house was from the clothing we wore that night and since we've been cleaning up the pile or ruins.

We are still speechless at what we saw and what we now see. There are thousands of ember marks all over the RV from when the wind started blowing in that direction. It has a black coating from the smoke on one side. Clint and I had holes burned into our clothes. The house doesn't have a mark on the old wood, siding or house wrap. The wrap looks just like it did before with no sign of any smoke damage, warping or melting. There are no ember marks. We've spent a lot of time looking. God is the only explanation we have for it. He had His Hands on us the entire time.

But Jesus said, "No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been." Mark 5:19