Off Grid and Free: The Terror of Forest Fires, Part 1


I can't think of too many things that demand immediate attention more than walking out the door and seeing a billowing curtain of gray/black smoke rising skyward in the nearby forest. That will get the heart racing from 0 to 60 in a flash.

Too close!

Since moving to our isolated piece of heaven in 2000, we've had at least four serious forest fire scares. One doesn't hear much about these fires in the north unless they threaten a community like Fort McMurray, Alberta. But the fires that have burned around us were equally as vicious and consumed over ¾ million acres.

In 2002, during our first wildfire threat, Johanna was evacuated to town and I faced the fire alone. I knew it was coming when I heard what sounded like a freight train chugging in the distance. Fires make that sound when they are burning so vigorously, they are gasping for air. When I ran down to the beach, all I saw was a towering wall of undulating orange and red flames at the south end of our lake, 4 miles distant.

I wrote some last words on paper, placed it into the cold metal stove for safekeeping and headed to the boat. Even though I drove the boat towards the fire, I thought that was my best chance of survival since the lake widens out in the center giving me more room to maneuver.

That evening, as far as I was concerned, the whole world was in flames. I was surrounded! I survived the night by wearing my survival suit. Depending on the situation, I was either in the lake, in the boat or hunkered on an island. But being on an island was not a guaranteed safe sanctuary either as most of them burned when the fire roared through. What took Mother Nature decades to grow, was destroyed in seconds as whole hillsides went up in a whoosh.

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