Fire on the Farm! But Everyone is Okay.
This past Wednesday Bill and I were getting on the Madison Beltline heading west to begin our biweekly CSA delivery route when we got Marlee’s call.
Bill’s urgent questioning and disjointed replies alerted me that something terrible was happening.
My mind jumped from terrible picture to terrible picture - Marlee was talking to Bill so she was ok but was Aidan under a tractor? Caught in some machine? On the way to the hospital?
Bill urgently directed her to go to the electrical pole, the one with the guide wire she had spun on as a little kid, and to pull the big breaker down to shut off the main power to our farm.
Questions swirled in my head. Liam had been going to Muscoda, was he in a car accident? But that didn’t make sense because why would it necessitate shutting off the power?
The tone in Bill’s voice as he kept asking what was happening was unmistakably one of an emergency.
WHAT WAS GOING ON????
My eyes searched for a place for him to pull over as he exited the Beltline, and I pointed to a spot on the side of the road knowing he was distracted by Marlee's words and in need of direction.
I waited impatiently for him to finish the call wanting to know what had happened but also being keenly aware that inside, I was recoiling from knowing what possible horrible thing was now our future. I was afraid and yet knew the only path in life is forward through whatever the reality was.
He was talking to Aidan now and saying, “Did you get it? Is the power off? How bad is it? Is everyone away from it? Shit! What about the propane tanks. Okay! Okay”
And then Aidan had to go, hanging up even as Bill was urgently telling him to call back as soon as he could.
Bill looked at me, and I saw the fear in his eyes as he said the pack shed was on fire but the kids were ok. Marlee and Aidan were shook up but ok, and Liam was just pulling in the driveway. Firefighters were on the way.
He put the van back in gear and pulled away from the curb to turn around and quickly head back home.
I mean sooooo good the kids were ok but Shit!!! We’re over an hour away!!!
And how could this be? My mind couldn’t seem to grab on to the idea of the packshed on fire at OUR place! We’d just left IT after a morning of putting the vegetable and meat shares together in IT before loading them in the van to deliver.
We asked each other question after question without knowing any answers. Our voices were terse and our tone almost short with each other as our anxiety grew. We felt so helpless being so far from the events unfolding at home.
I couldn’t stand it and called Marlee back. Her phone’s battery was very low, but she had enough to confirm it was true we had a fire, but they were all ok.
She said Aidan had tried to put it out with water and fire extinguishers but couldn’t. And the boys had thought to get the two big, and recently filled, bottles of propane next to the shed hauled away as fast as they could move
the heavy cylinders without the dolly cart we had with us for deliveries.
Then she had to go.
It was so hard to not be there and see with my own eyes that they were ok.
So hard to not know how bad it was or to help them navigate it!
Liam called to tell us the firefighters were there. When he’d got home, he’d tried to smother the flames with a large insulated blanket as there wasn’t any water with the power off. He thought he was successful, but then realized the fire was bursting out the other side of the wall into the attached lean-to. He left the smoky room shutting the door behind in hopes it might help suffocate or, in the least, slow the burning. Fortunately Aidan had already driven the
tractors out of the lean-to.
And then Liam had to go abruptly, someone was asking him questions about the building.
My eyes could see the highway flying by outside the window, but still I felt like we weren't any closer to them!
Bill and I decided to go to my sister Renata’s place in Mazomanie. He could borrow her car to go home while I finished the Madison deliveries.
We knew the kids were okay, experienced help had arrived, and Bill was the one who needed to be there with his knowledge of the building. The van was full of vegetables and delaying deliveries didn’t seem a wise option with Thursday’s predicted snowstorm.
And, practically, we didn’t even know if there was still a cooler to keep vegetables in anymore?
I needed to finish deliveries, and THEN go home. But I didn't want to. I wanted to be home. It was hard to turn away and go the opposite direction after dropping him off.
I found out later that over forty firefighters came from Muscoda, Blue River, and Boscobel. The road was closed and a pool erected in our driveway to hold the water they pumped to spray the fire.
The concern was to stop damage to the shed but also to keep the fire from jumping to other buildings.
We’ll never know for sure, but it seems the cause was electrical. Old wires in the wall sparked and caught on the insulation’s paper lining and climbed up inside the walls to ignite the wood framing in the walls and ceiling along with the attic’s cellulose insulation.
One of the firefighters told Bill he’d never seen a fire both burning down from the attic and
up from below at the same time.
After they put it out, the volunteers spent several hours testing for hot spots with their thermal imaging guns. They sprayed everything to make sure every spark was out, not willing to risk the fire restarting.
One of the unfortunate realities of putting out a fire is that somethings that survived the heat and flames of the fire are damaged by, or even succumb to, the measures needed to do so.
In the efforts to get the attic fire out, holes had been cut into several walls. The ceiling with all its insulation was pulled down on top of everything below. Bins, boxes, containers, tables, racks, portable coolers, and totes, were thrown out on the ground and liberally doused with water and fire retardants.
Bill and the kids were able to save some items from the deluge but some were understandably destroyed.
Liam thought to take a photo. The fire seems to be mostly out at this point.
When the coast was clear, and Bill had thanked them several times over, the firefighters packed up and left.
Bill took this photo after the fire was out.
As it got dark, the work to shovel out the heavy wet ceiling insulation to make a path to both the freezers and walk-in cooler to assess the food inside was just getting started.
It took a couple hours to get there, but the food inside was protected and okay!
View of the burnt wall from the attached lean-to.
The wall where it started from inside the packshed.
Late that night after shoveling out the insulation and debris to get to the freezers.
I arrived home just as they finished. After exchanging long embraces, we looked at the damage.
Everything looked so different from how it had been just that morning when I'd last seen it.
Then Renata, who I’d picked up on my way back through Mazo, left reunited with her car.
All was quiet and there wasn't anything to do until morning. We went in the warm house where io was nursing her puppies just off the kitchen, and everything again felt normal.
But even though we were exhausted, and it was time for bed, we were also wound up.
We told each other different pieces of the story, putting them all together so we could collectively "see" the whole thing.
And, I guess, to make sense of what had happened. It wasn’t a dream; it was real.
In the wall that had been intact that very morning, just like always, held trouble that would leave the room barely recognizable, and all of us acutely feeling our vulnerabilities as human beings by nightfall.
Eventually we went to bed and slept.
Except for Marlee.
She wasn’t able to let go of the possibility of another fire until the wee hours of the morning when she heard Bill downstairs making the morning coffee. Another day later, and she’s feeling more secure. Last night she slept a little.
I wish I could tell her not to worry. We’ve paid our dues and nothing bad will ever happen to us or her again.
But I can’t. It wouldn’t be fair to lie. And she wouldn’t believe me even if I did.
So I hug her, listen when she wants me to, and hope tonight will be better.
Aidan worries about things he maybe . . . . possibly . . . . might’ve . . . . had time to save if he’d only thought to do so.
We reassure him it wasn’t meant to be, we’ll replace what needs replacing, knowing hindsight is always 20/20 and his questioning is normal while wanting him to have his own back and know he did the best he could in the situation.
I keep seeing the three of them - Liam, Aidan, and Marlee - standing there waiting for the fire departments to come help . . . . without me.
The three most precious people in my life.
And thoughts and emotions flood through me.
I bite my lip and feel tears well in my eyes as I feel immense thankfulness they are safe, fear for their closeness to danger, frustration with my inability to protect them, worry that we haven’t prepared them properly for the challenges life will inevitably provide, pride in their quick thinking, realization of their ability to be responsible for themselves, each other, the animals and farm, (Who am I kidding? Their instincts were better than mine would have been in several instances) and then I’m back, full circle, to gratitude.
So, the insistently annoying person I can be at times when processing a rollercoaster of feelings, pojnts out, again, our fortune and holds them tight.
Me hugging Liam. AGAIN!
We’re okay, our animals are okay, we have a home, and are able to keep our present and future commitments to farm members and market customers.
We Are Okay.
Putting in temporary lights and getting power to the freezers and walk-in cooler.
We aren’t guaranteed any of those things.
Not even when naturally take it for granted and fool ourselves into thinking we are.
This fire reminded us of that.
Bill's asked Liam if he’d take some of the charred and bent steel down to his blacksmith shop to create a phoenix sculpture he could install by the packshed.
He says he might.
Maybe . . . when he does, he’ll incorporate a four leaf clover so we don’t ever forget how very lucky we are.