Oops!!

Yesterday was a bit of a crazy day for us. First, let me back up a couple of years. Ever since we built our new barn in 2010, our flies have been making an annual attempt to take it over. Last summer the flies were really bad, making it almost impossible to enjoy being outside. Despite our best attempts to catch and poison them, it never seemed like we were able to make a dent in the population. So, this spring I had a particular zeal for taking control of our fly problem.

Things started off well with lots of fly traps set in various locations as well as regular poisoning of the worst fly areas, including our manure compost pile. However, on Monday morning I realized I was losing ground when I noticed the thousands of fly larva hatched in our carcass compost at the north end of our manure pile. I had just sprayed that same area with poison the day before. So, after realizing that the poison had had no effect, I decided to take somewhat more extreme measures. Now in hind sight I realize that this was a very, VERY bad idea, but I was pretty sure it would do the trick.

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I started out by soaking the infested carcasses with a little diesel fuel and then lit them on fire. Now perhaps the only possible defence for my foolishness might be that conditions here have been quite wet all spring. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the drying effect of the hot south wind over the past couple of days. It was only a matter of seconds before a good portion of the manure pile had caught fire and the flames were beginning to spread to the nearby grass and brush.

The kids really enjoyed watching the firemen put out the fire.
The kids really enjoyed watching the firemen put out the fire.

Fortunately, at this point, I made my first wise decision and called 911. By the time the fire crew arrived, the fire was burning intensely in the north half of the manure pile and spreading along the nearby fence line as well as spreading north and west through some dry dead trees and heading towards some old straw bales and a wide open alfalfa field. Thankfully, though the wind was strong, it was blowing in the safest direction. A north wind would have quickly spread the flames dangerously close to our barn and farm-yard.

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The firemen went right to work hosing down the spreading edge of the blaze. Meanwhile, the fire chief got me working on splitting the manure pile in half separating the burning half from the material that was still safe. I used our John Deere loader to move the burning material to the nearby burning pit close to the edge of a swampy low lying area. The dangerous thing about burning manure is that it is almost impossible to extinguish, it simply sits and smolders for weeks. So our only hope was to confine the burning manure to the burning pit which was our safest option. The fire crew had the fire put out everywhere except in the manure pile itself which I continued to move all afternoon. One truck stayed around to occasionally hose down my bucket and hydraulic hoses. According to one of the firemen, a burning hydraulic hose is a bit of a funny thing to deal with, but would leave us without a loader to move the burning manure. Thankfully, we never had a hydraulic hose burst and by about 6pm the last of the burning manure was moved to the safer location about 50 feet from where it had been sitting.

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At this point the fire crew packed up to leave, but they informed me that I would be spending the entire night keeping an eye on the fire and was given strict instructions to call them if anything flared up or began to spread. And so, with that, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and began the stake out. There were a few small re-kindles around the area that I quickly snuffed out but otherwise the wind was nicely blowing the huge volume of smoke away and to the north and things were under control. Alyssa spelled me for a couple hours between 10pm and midnight while I got a couple hours of sleep. Then I pulled the truck out behind the barn and set my cell phone alarm to go off every half hour whether I fell asleep or not. After making sure everything was under control, I reclined the truck seat and fell asleep around 1am. When I woke up at 1:30am everything was still about the same and I went back to sleep. I woke up before my alarm at 1:50am and noticed that the wind had shifted somewhat and was blowing some smoke towards my truck. I moved into a clear area, checked for flare ups and went back to sleep. At 2:30am I woke up and noticed that the wind was blowing very strongly now, directly out of the north. Sparks were kicking up and flying towards the barn and dry grass. Just what we were thankful had not been the case earlier was now exactly the scenario taking place. So far, no fire had spread and I was thankful for that. I kept a close eye on everything and didn’t let myself fall back to sleep. By 3am the wind began to intensify and was now hurling clouds of embers across the yard towards the barn. At the south end of the yard, Alyssa woke up from the sound of the wind. She peered out our bedroom window and saw the sparks flying southward toward the barn yard. Worried, she called my cell to see what was going on.

Outside, I was still closely watching the fire. Amazingly the fire had not yet spread though thousands of live embers were showering across the yard. I took the call from Alyssa and let her know that everything was under control. However, while I was on the phone some of the straw along the fence line to the east caught fire and I headed that way to beat it out. Alyssa let me know that she was coming out and I asked her to bring a little drinking water. At this point I had still not called the fire department but I was thinking about doing so when the Olds fire chief called me. He let me know that they had just responded to another grass fire in the county that had been re-kindled by the wind and that, remembering our fire, he was sending a truck over to check on our situation. Thankful to have the fire crew on their way I continued to work in the blowing smoke and ash as I tried to keep the fire from spreading. Small patches in the yard were beginning to flare up as embers found dry places to ignite and I was worried that some of them might begin to spread faster than I could beat them out. Alyssa had come out with the minivan and was watching everything. She kindly check the barn for new lambs, and I was thankful to hear that none had been born during the night. Once I felt that I was ahead of the flare ups, I jumped in the John Deere and began to scrape the yard directly south of the blaze. I wanted to get as much as possible down to black dirt so that the fire couldn’t spread. However, the sparks were flying toward the back door of the barn which was standing open. After closing the door, there wasn’t much else to do but wait for the fire crew and hope for the best. Alyssa headed back in to get a bit more sleep before the kids woke up and I waited outside.

Miles working in the tractor in the middle of the night.
Miles working in the tractor in the middle of the night.

The fire men showed up in a pickup around 4 am, around the time that the wind was beginning to die down. They surveyed the area and were happy to see that nothing was spreading. However with the wind still blowing they didn’t want to leave, and stayed to monitor the situation. They told me they would order a tanker to bring some water and hose things down, however as we waited the wind continued to die down and by 5am the sparks had quit blowing and there was no longer any great risk. They called off the tanker and after telling me to keep a close eye on things left once again.

With things fairly stable and dawn on the horizon, I made sure my alarm was still set for half hour intervals and climbed back in the truck for a little sleep around 5:30. We would later find out that Alyssa’s mom and dad had both awoken to pray for us around 4am and 5am respectively right around the time the wind began to subside.

After a few checks, I was able to head in for some breakfast around 8am. The house was full of smoke and stayed that way for the better part of the day. We are so thankful that my foolish fire starting didn’t result in anything worse than a bit of burnt fence line, some lost sleep and a bruised ego. I’ve been thinking of the many places in the Bible which tell us to be thankful in all circumstances. Well we certainly are thankful today for a great many things. However, there was one thing I wouldn’t have remembered to be thankful for if I hadn’t been reminded by one of the firemen. When I explained to him how the fire got started he asked, “Well, did it work?”

I had to stop and think for a second and then I began to chuckle, “Yup, I guess it did!”

The flies are gone, at least for now, and for that I am VERY thankful.

-Miles

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