Wildfire 2018 Read All About It

Andy and I combined our newly purchased cows and old faithful cows and put them in the Lake Fork Cattle Association Grazing Allotments. It had always been a dream of ours to own Forest Service Permits. That dream came true Spring 2018. We were so happy!

The first wildfire ripped through Coal Hollow, Mill Fork, Dairy Fork and was headed for Lake Fork.  We worked dark till dark (7am-9pm, at least) for 3 weeks straight on the front lines of the fire. The firefighters let us in front of the Hotshots.  I guess we are responsible for our own fate. Not a liability for them, only for ourselves.

The cattleman had special permission. Basically, “let the cattleman go wherever they want and do whatever they have to do to save their livelihoods.” We had lots of close calls and high stress. There were moments of low morale and so much fatigue! Now that all is said and done, Andy and I and the rest of the Lake Fork Members have officially bonded for life! Similar to battle brothers. It was definitely a time that we will always remember.

After Wildfire #1 we had recovered 75% of our herd. We had also located our top herd sire via trail cam.  We had spent $1500 on diesel fuel alone and worn out nearly every horse on our place. Andy’s pedometer said he had been 127 miles in only 1 week (on a horse). One Hundred Twenty-Seven miles!

Most of our cows were home, we were feeding our winter supply of hay in the middle of the summer. Not in our plan.

We found dead cows and half-dead cows with feet burned off. We found cows with burns and scars. They and we, went through so much. I could see it in their eyes as we gathered them. They were grateful for us, and we were grateful for them!

Because we were using our winter hay storage in the summer, we were so happy to push our cows into Blind Canyon with special Forest Service permission. It was a dry year but there was plenty of grass in the canyon. 

All was calm. All was bright. Every extra second we had was still spent searching for remaining survivors, but it wasn’t nearly as high stress as the front lines of an active fire.

One Week Later

I opened my front door and immediately asked my neighbor what was burning. She pointed the direction of Nebo Creek. She said she had already called about the fire. They had told her not to worry, they are aware. Also, they told her they are “not fighting that fire.”

Ok. Weird.

Andy stopped on his way home and talked to some other neighbors. He specifically asked if they are concerned about “that fire” (as he pointed).

The next night the wind was roaring! The fire was headed right for our house. I stayed up all night worried about the fact that if the fireman came into my house, they may see my true colors. So I decided to pick up a bit. I cleaned and scrubbed and organized. My house looked really good. I wasn’t too worried about the actual fire burning me up. This wasn’t my “first rodeo."

We were running a few head of cows in Nebo Creek. It burned to ashes during the night.

Andy woke up super early prepared to find them dead but found them all alive in a little circle of green. 

At first light, Andy singlehandedly gathered the survivors and brought the calves home.

Later that morning Andy went to help more neighbors gather the cows that were literally in the “line of Fire.”

I stayed with the kids and watched the amazing and beautiful plume laced with flames move our direction. Fast!

The wind picked up by 10 am and I could no longer see flames or smoke or anything really. Nothing but ash raining down and smoke. I couldn’t even see my neighbor’s House from mine (the white one)!

Things were pretty crazy.

I had already decided that every THING I had was replaceable. I thought to myself, I will take my family, and my dogs, and “Hasta La Vista Baby!”

I knew the evacuation was coming, but I also knew that we didn’t have to actually leave. It was more for our safety, letting the Firefighters do their job, and all that stuff.

Right at this moment of complete pandemonium, some kind neighbor ladies from up the road showed up.

“What can we do?”

My mind was racing.

“Well, maybe watch my kids while I feed my dogs.”

I dunno?

All is well.


Now I look back and realize my mind wasn’t working at the best of its ability.

The sweet ladies babysat while I feed all the many animals that I am responsible for at my house.

I was filling up a bucket of water as the head of Livestock Grazing from the Forest Service, who we cattleman work very closely with, walked out on my back porch. He was just checking on me but before he could speak I screamed, “oh my gosh, is it on fire over there again?!?!?!” (as I pointed at our cows in Blind Canyon and the previous burn scar we had just dealt with).

We had just pushed our surviving cows into the canyon a week prior to this.

He calmed my crazy and said, “no, no, no, BUT I do need you to be ready, it could go that way!”

I asked the ladies to help me get the kids in the car and they could go. (PS- Thank you so much friends!)

I drove up to my In-law’s house  to see what was happening that direction.

My MIL’s mind was working about as well as mine at that moment. But we “get” each other so all was well.

As I went to pull out and check on another neighbor that was so close to the fire and their kids, an old black car was pulling up and flashing their lights.

Lo and behold, it was my “battle brothers” from the Association.

One of them rolled down the window and said, “am I going to need to pay for your therapy? Are you having a nervous breakdown yet?”

(Remember we had just experienced a horrible crazy terrible fire?)

They helped a bit (actually a lot) and headed home.

On their way home they watched the fire jump HWY 89 and head straight for our cows (and their cows too).  They put it out 3 times!

A Grumpy Highway Patrolman yelled at everyone he saw “evacuate in 15 mins or less”.

As quick as he came he was gone.

I decided to leave with the kids and my dogs. Mostly because the kids had a gymnastics class that was downtown and I wanted to go to the grocery store.

After a restless night in our Sheep Camp Trailer, I decided that evacuation was not for me. I went to the grocery store, and devised a plan. I was headed home!

As I passed the armed guard along the HWY 89 turnoff from HWY 6 I told the fella I was headed to help haul cows out of the Blind Canyon Corral and take them home.

I may have purposely failed to mention that I live right in middle of it all. But, nevertheless I got home.

For a week we remained under “mandatory evacuation.”

I helped haul cows, move cows, set gates, cook food, and provide emotional support for cattleman, children, animals and also other neighbor fugitives who avoided the mandatory evacuation (99% of my neighbors).

It was a time I am so grateful I got to experience. Yes, we lost a lot of cows. Yes, we fed some of our winter supply of hay. We also cut our expected income for the year by half or more.

It could have been a lot worse! I personally think everyone has their own “wildfires” in life. Sickness, death, divorce, loneliness, infertility. I would much rather deal with this one than some of those.

I watched beautiful flames rip though canyons and explode cedar trees. I saw people at their worst, and their best! I now have cows that I could market as “pre-smoked” or “more likely to survive a wildfire," in fact, they survived TWO!

My kids were there though it all. They have memories they can tell their grandkids. Andy mentioned once that “it looked like he was in the middle of a volcano.”

Now that it is over I can say that I could and I continue to feel God’s Hand in my life, guiding me through. I said a lot of prayers. They were all answered. Some not how I would have chosen, but I know they were answered in the way God intended. He is at the helm and if we try our best, he will fill in the rest. I think ultimately we all have the same goals! We also all have different experiences that help us get where we are going. It’s really not about what happens, it’s all about how we react to what happens!

Okay that is enough info. Some of you are probably thinking “TMI Nikki” (too much information). I am done now.

PS- Wildfire Sunsets are UNREAL!

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