My cell phone did not stop beeping and vibrating as texts, Facebook messages, comments, emails and phone calls poured in offering meals and places to stay and asking, "how can we help?" Honestly, I could barely wrap my mind around what I'd just done and what was currently happening. And there really wasn't anything anyone could do.
"Just pray" was my reply over and over again. Pray. Please just pray.
As I drove to Wal-Mart, re-routed once because the sheriffs were keeping 1804 clear for UMary evacuation traffic, my mom called and said that she couldn't get my dad to leave and that she didn't know what to do. I told her she had to leave, just go. He would hopefully follow, but if he didn't, we couldn't have her staying there too.
"Mom, we can't lose both of you to this fire. You have to leave." As soon as the words left my mouth they sounded so harsh. Even now, a week later, they sound brutal. But they were spoken from a place of desperation and of love. The very thought that we could lose my dad in this fire overwhelmed me with anger and sadness. And hearing my mom waffle in her decision to leave him behind overtook me with fear. This fire could not, it would not, take my family.
"It can have my home, but please, dear God, don't let it take my parents."
The kids were crying, wailing about their "stupid Pops" staying behind in the path of danger.
My husband called to say he'd made it to Wal-Mart and to ask where we were. I told him we were en route and that my mom had finally just left the house but that Pops had not. Scott asked what he should do. Should he go and help my dad?
"Hell no. You are not going down there. I can't have you down there being an idiot too. We can't lose him and lose you." I took a ragged breath. "And anyway, I doubt they'll let you in. The sheriffs were on the corner."
I hung up with Scott because my mom was calling through. Her words were an ocean breeze, whooshing peace to my heart and relief to my mind.
"Your dad called, he's left and on his way to Wal-Mart."
"Oh Praise God! Praise God!"
As we pulled into the parking lot, Gracey was crying about the trampoline and her playhouse in our backyard. And her pink violin in her bedroom. Adam tried to console her, telling her these were just things that could be replaced. Yet, my own mind flashed to our vintage (read: old, beat-up, yet treasured) pop-up camper sitting in the back corner of our yard, about 100 feet from the flames. Why didn't I try and hook it up and pull it out? We only bought it last summer, why didn't I try to save it?
These were among the first questions I asked Scott when he pulled my sobbing self to his chest there outside the garden center at the South Wal-Mart. He just reminded me that I did everything I should and got everyone out and that was all that mattered. But then we heard small explosions and all of us turned to the south where the smoke clouded UMary hill. I didn't say it then, but I was certain those explosions were all the propane cans packed away with our camping stuff inside our Little Grass Shack (the old, beat-up, treasured camper).
Within a few minutes, my sister was there. She'd come to be with us. And then my mom arrived followed by my dad who grinned like the Cheshire cat when I scolded him for scaring us. He told us that he intended to stay and fight the fire using the hoses and the well, but the smoke got too thick and disoriented him. That's when he saw that the dogs were in the car and I'd left his car running (hint, hint) and he knew he had to go. He said that the flames were behind our house now, in the pasture and he asked us and my mom about our fire insurance.
Still the texts and messages beeped on my phone. Still I just said, "pray."
My mom had me call and book rooms at the La Quinta and then someone asked if we were going to eat dinner.
"Dinner is done. It's in the oven," I said and then I laughed. I was just about to pull it out of the oven when it was time to leave, so there it sat. Scott wanted to know if I'd remembered to turn off the oven and I said I had.
And this is where humor happened. I pictured that chicken in the oven, sitting there, waiting for us and I laughed. Potatoes for the kids in the microwave and steamed veggies on the stove. All of it there, cooling inside the smoke-filled house, waiting for us to come home. What would the firemen think when they broke down doors to put out flames? I laughed. I actually laughed.
We sat in the parking lot, Adam on the grass, me on the curb, Pops in his car, Scott and Grammy pacing circles as my sister and Gracey went into Wal-Mart, for an hour. Just trying to get hold of ourselves and what was happening.
As we got to the hotel, Scott's dad called. He'd just gotten home to his boat in CA and had logged in to our web cam. It sits in our backyard and his parents can watch us 24/7 whenever they want. It's like our private security system. He told Scott that there were firemen all over our yard and that he could see flames. And that something had just ignited that second in the kids' play area. At once I was both relieved that our house was still standing and heartbroken that the kids play area was on fire. Their playhouses and forts, swings and climbing things all sit under a cluster of 40-foot cottonwood trees, next to it their trampoline and the Little Grass Shack.
We spoke to them several times over the next few hours; they watched the scene until it was dark. Every call brought us a glimmer of hope. The fire, they said, had been contained/pushed back behind our fence line and our yard was in-tact though something had burned in the play area, they could not tell what.
"What about Little Grass Shack?" I asked. Scott repeated the question to his dad, then nodded, smiled and gave me the thumbs up.
Prayer was working. My God was hearing the prayers of my friends and family and He was saving my house. My God was on my side. Again.
Eventually, the evacuation orders were lifted and we decided to go with my parents down to our houses to see what we could. As we came down the small hill, I remembered our trips through the flood waters to check on our houses. The same anxiety and anticipation came over me now. As we came around the bend and saw flames dancing in the fields and along the hill followed by dozens of flashing fire truck lights, we collectively sucked in our breath. Behind our house, the pasture was aglow with small fires, one creeping its way up a tree behind our house.
It was so beautiful. It looked like a scene from a Disney ride and it was so beautiful. But I knew it wasn't supposed to be beautiful. It was ugly and destruction and scary. Why was it so peaceful and beautiful? The flood had been that way too. If you didn't look at the sandbags or the dead carp, the water was peaceful and beautiful.
We checked the house, moved Little Grass Shack, saw the burnt pile of hay that had once served as a climbing thing in the kids' play area and thanked God for sparing their forts and swings. Burnt hay? Big deal. Those cottonwood trees were still standing and so were all their play things.
Our house was smoky inside. I put our cold, cooked dinner in the fridge and we went back to the hotel for the night.
A dear treasured friend and mentor called me and reminded me of Daniel. There he was thrown into the fire yet he knew His God would rescue him. My heart had a new fondness for this Bible hero.
When we returned home the next morning, we were overwhelmed. The fire had literally stopped at the property lines of not only our house, but at those of our neighbors too. Literally stopped at the fence lines.
And then we saw the singed netting of the trampoline enclosure and the burnt grass that had been under the Little Grass Shack and I cried again. God had not only spared our homes, He'd spared these things as well. The fire had literally burnt a black patch under and around our stupid camper -- the one I lamented leaving behind -- but not an inch of the camper was damaged.
Firemen came and went for much of the following three days. We used buckets, hoses and sprinklers to put out hot spots and flare ups. We called 911 at least twice to put out fires that we spotted even two days ago. We had many opportunities to thank the firemen and congratulate them on a job well done. They were amazing. They fought this fire with all the had. The one fire chief told us this was the fastest moving fire he's seen in his 28 years of service. And he said it was the first time some of his men considered giving up and running because it was fierce, fast and kept changing directions. He said it was in front of them at one point and behind them the next second. It was a big, fast-moving, dangerous fire. And yet they'd been able to contain it and to save every home.
Not a single home was lost. Not a single person was injured. Nearly 3,000 acres burned. But buildings, posessions and people were spared.
Those firemen, they were heroic.
But, you need to know something. You prayed. You were heroic in your prayers. Some of you prayed through tears. You prayed. God heard you. God acted on behalf of your prayers.
He sent a mighty army of angels with fire hoses -- both physical men in uniforms and spiritual beings with wings -- and He defeated this fire. And He did that because you prayed. Because together, across this globe, friends and family, strangers and loved ones called out to God and asked Him to act.
We hung a sign out front of our home. It says it better than I ever could.
If we are thrown into the blazing fire, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us... Daniel 3:17
He is able to save us. He is willing to save us. He will rescue us.
And He did.
He did because you prayed. "Ask and you shall receive when you ask in my name."
You may not have held a fire hose or dug a fire break, yet you extinguished a fire when you knelt before your God and prayed. Prayer is a powerful tool. Thank you for using it on our behalf. Let this fire remind you always of the power you hold to go before the Almighty God and say, "Please."