What Would You Take?

Posted October 14, 2015 by Prairie Wife - 14 comments

Sunday was a typical  blustery Fall afternoon with steady winds of 50mph and strong gusts well over that. The Cowkids were playing a new video game with the neighbors and The Cowboy puttered in the barn as I worked on the never-ending task of laundry.

As I passed by an open window I thought I could smell smoke…While this isn’t necessarily unusual out here (people still burn their trash), the smell of smoke in Wyoming is always a reason to be alert. The Cowboy and I stood on our deck worriedly searching the horizon for the cause of the smell.

smokeAs you can see by the picture we didn’t have to wait long to see that it was a grass fire. In Wyoming you can see for miles so we had no way of knowing how close the fire was. This isn’t the first time a grass fire has occurred near us, so we were wary but not overly concerned. We texted a few people who may be in the know and checked a few local media sites to see what was happening.

A little over 12 miles from us a fire had begun at our local landfill. Due to the winds it was spreading fast and furiously and people were being evacuated in an area called Cole Creek. We were worried and concerned for the families in the area but the fire still had a lot of ground to cover…or so we thought.

the fire is closerIt became obvious that the fire was picking up and traveling closer when the police and fire trucks began to camp out at the top of the hill right by our property. It’s the perfect vantage point to see for miles into town, and has a road that leads to many small pockets of homes that are scattered between us and town. We soon saw a heavy flow of cars leaving the area and even more concerning horse trailers full of livestock. We knew that it was no longer just curious neighbors driving to see where the fire was, but families being evacuated. We kept touch with friends who were fighting the fire as well as neighbors closer to town who confirmed the fire was headed our way at an alarming rate. Soon the smoke filled our little hollow and The Cowboy and decided it was time to take some action.

horses ready to loadWe sent the neighbor kids home and gathered up the horses. We put halters on them and kept the truck and trailer ready for quick loading. The Cowboy loaded up a few saddles and tack, his hunting rifle and a pistol. As we were talking about what to do next the Sheriff came by and gave us all notice that the next time he came by it would be to tell us to get out. I took a deep breath and headed into the house.

The Cowkids knew there was a fire, and had been occasionally coming out to watch the smoke but, as I said before, this was nothing new for us and they weren’t upset. I calmly told the Cowkids to get on shoes and socks and go to the bathroom. As I fed the baby I explained that the fire was getting close and we might need to leave our house and head to TallGirlJ’s for safety. The two older kids immediately began to cry, they knew what this meant and were scared and sad at the thought of our house burning down. Cowboy W is only 5 and followed my lead and stayed calm and of course Cowboy C at 2 and LittleMissH at 7 months had no idea what was happening.

what would you takeI grabbed a laundry basket and threw in jammies and a pair of clothes for each of us. My computer soon followed as it has all of our pictures and videos from the last 11 years. Next went a small bag full of my most precious jewelry (sentimental as well as monetary), my ox blood leather jacket (trust me it’s irreplaceable) and some family heirloom bibles. I grabbed a picture of The Cowboy’s grandma and a special Cowboy hat she had given him, placed my antique rosary around Cowgirl G’s neck and then paused…that was it. I was done. Everything I truly needed fit into a laundry basket and would be buckled into their car seats. My heart was full with the knowledge and peace that as long as my family was safe nothing else mattered. The Cowboy came in and took at a look at the basket. He sweetly added our wedding album and two framed pictures of our wedding and he too called it good.

Cowgirl G tearfully asked if they could each pick three things to take. It seemed that we had some time before we would be evacuated (we still had no idea if we would be for sure) and I told her to go ahead. It was fascinating to see what they picked. I thought for sure she would pick her American Girl Doll but instead she picked two stuffed animals and her special blanket. Cowboy J picked his favorite stuffed animal, his bible and a rosary. Cowboy W picked a stuffed animal, a pillow he received from a stay in the PICU a few years ago, and a favorite picture of The Cowboy and I . Cowboy C, not wanting to be left out, gathered up a stuffed animal as well. Cowboy W also grabbed a pet rock he had made last year and insisted that we also take this “sign of his love for us”. With the extra time I pulled a few family picture collages off the walls and put them in the car.

Rather then sit around waiting for something (or nothing) to happen, we put the kids to work with the hoses wetting down the grass in front of our hay. The Cowboy moved our other truck and our CAT skidster into the horse corral in hopes that with no grass or bushes the fire might go around them. The dogs and cats were nervous and sticking close so we knew we didn’t need to worry about catching them. We stood outside gazing at the horizon watching the smoke change from light (grass burning) to dark (structures burning) and waiting for the word for the Sheriff.

At about 6:30 as the sun was setting the wind stopped.

The only noise was the roar of the huge air tankers dumping fire retardant and the helicopters buzzing through the sky from the river to fill up with water, and back to the fire. We took the Cowkids in and fed them dinner, let the horses back into the corral and just in case, left the car packed. It seemed that the danger was over.

fire at sunset


The next day as I headed over the top of the hill to get The Cowkids from school tears filled my eyes as I saw the deep dark swatch of black that spread from about a mile from our house (too close for comfort) as far as the eye could see. We were safe, our home and animals were fine…but my heart broke for those that were not so fortunate.

burn mark

Currently (Tuesday night) the total is around 10,000 acres burned (the fire flared up again yesterday afternoon) and more than a dozen people have lost their homes. This does not include businesses and structures (barn, shops and sheds) lost to the fire, or the smoke damage done to standing homes. The fire is 50% contained and thousands of people are just now allowed to return to their homes.

Our town has rallied around these people in a way that makes me proud to live in Wyoming. Because of the rural nature of our area, many horses and livestock were displaced. Our local fairgrounds are housing them and dozens of community members volunteered their time and risked their safety to transport them away from the fire. Hotels are offering discounted rates and many restaurants are offering free meals to residents and the firefighters. Donations are pouring into the Red Cross and local churches and I was brought to tears several times by the concerned texts, calls and offers of a place to stay from numerous friends.

A thank you to the local law enforcement officers and firefighters who have been tirelessly serving our community these past three days.

My question for you…What would you take?

To learn more about the “Cole Creek Fire” follow this link.

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14 thoughts on "What Would You Take?"

  1. Bennie says:

    Gee, I really have no idea, possibly a diamond ring my aunt gave me and some other jewelery that is more sentimental than valuable, most recent photos are online on FB so I think I’d leave the computer, maybe my i-pod simply to be able to communicate with people, my purse with ID and credit cards, I can’t think of much else. Stuff can be replaced, mind you my grandmother’s quilts can’t but safety is more important than stuff.

    It’s not the same as you but there was a fire in my neighborhood Saturday night. I live in a condo and it backs up to a river (technically a river but only ankle deep right now). The condos across from us had a fire around 7:00 pm. I was out and got home around 9:00 totally unaware until I read it in the paper on Sunday. That as a little too close for comfort. . No lives were lost and I don’t know the damage, maybe I’ll take a walk over Sunday to see how it looks. I think 2-3 condos in that complex were affected. Luckily we literally live down the street from a fire department so I think they got there fairly quickly.

    I hope the brush fires cease in your area.

    1. Prairie Wife says:

      It’s amazing how when these things hit close to home it makes you pause and think, glad to hear your condo was safe! And I agree, safety is more important than things 🙂

  2. Erin Gross says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. We live in the area and were evacuated and thankfully did not lose our home but did have to assess our lives in a short period of time. A year ago during one of our past grass fire scares, I’d made sure we had all pertinent documents in an accessible location and that the kids knew what to take in the event of an evacuation. We had some time and took documents, pictures, clothes, Bibles and school books and loaded up in our 5th wheel and left. We have immediate family who didn’t even have 5 minutes from their evacuation notice til their home went up in flames and they lost 40 years of memories.

    It’s a good time to remember that our families are precious, our community is amazing and strong and giving and brave, and to learn what we can do to be prepared, should we need to leave again in the future.

    As I drive to town this afternoon, I know my heart will be both saddened for the losses experienced by so many and amazed at the outpouring of love shown by this incredible community.

    1. Prairie Wife says:

      I’m glad you mentioned important documents. We have copies of all of the kids and our paperwork in a very high rated safe, so we didn’t take the time to unlock it and grab them out…good to remeber though. My prayers are with your friends and family that were not as lucky, and I like you am #WyomingProud

  3. Jamie says:

    Crying now. Can’t imagine your emotions and also your ability to be a strong mama when your family needed it most. I can imagine the peace you and your husband had as you imagined saying goodbye to your home. Strong marriages are magical.

    1. Prairie Wife says:

      I agree, without my husband standing next to me there is no way I could have had such a positive attitude! Thank you for your kind words and I hope you stop back again to PrairieWifeInHeels.com 🙂

  4. Linda says:

    We crossed sheriff signs in 2012, instructing us to stay off our land during a fire in order to fight a fire. Thankfully, that fire became Type 1 priority just before it went through our land. We were still in the building process, but far enough along to have a few of the essentials already there. I asked my husband to take a picture of our new cabinets (installed Monday, fire started on Wednesday), grab the chest of drawers from my great-grandparents, and our son’s favorite stuffed animal. We didn’t have pictures there, so that made it easier.

    In 2006, when Casper Mountain was burning, we packed everything we wanted into our 5th wheel camper. I loaded pictures and videos into laundry baskets (!) a few files of important papers, and a few changes of clothes. Thankfully, we didn’t have to evacuate. I think packing those items made me take a fresh look at the “stuff” in my house that is useful, but not important.

    During the wildfire in 2012, the fire came within 30′ (yes, feet) our new home in Albany County, Wyoming. I still get scared when I smell smoke when we shouldn’t and hearing about wildfires makes me scared and on the edge of tears. That being said, I am going to earn my red card so I will have the power to fight fires using a few skills. In the meantime, I pray and stay out of the way.

    1. Prairie Wife says:

      You are a strong woman! I am finding the longer we live in Wyoming the more we have experiences similar to this…this was only the second time it has come this close…I can’t imagine 30ft…thanks for sharing your insight and I love your attitude about now training to fight the fires rather than be a victim.

  5. Rockin' Piranha says:

    This is much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I would definitely grab my laptop. Gotta have my music and photos. I do keep a backup hard drive with copies of everything at my parents house but it’s not 100% up to date. I totally recommend doing that! It’s not that expensive and even if you can’t update it that often you still have a good portion of your files! Next I would take my sock monkey. Yes, I am 33 years old and still sleep with a sock monkey but some things never change. I would also grab a ring my grandma gave me. It’s not worth much money but it means a lot to me. Lastly, I have a book full of concert ticket stubs. I would be really sad to lose that. Oh but if had time I would get 2 more things. My acoustic guitar and my childhood doll Peachy. Obviously my puppy and fish would be the very first things to come. Lives matter WAY more than objects. Great exercise Prairie Wife!!!

    1. Prairie Wife says:

      I love your choices, it is funny now how computers have made so many things easier. I can’t imagine trying to grab our hundreds of photo albums. And no judgment on the sock monkey…pretty sure that Cowboy J will be taking “Dan Bear” with him wherever he goes!

  6. Julie says:

    I live on Casper Mountain and had to evacuate in 2006 and almost had to evacuate in 2012. It was very difficult. I’m single and drive a subaru. Not much cargo space and no one to help load. I’m a professional photographer, so I not only had all the important family photos (from several generations) but important work/art photos as well In 2006 almost all of the space was taken up with slides, negatives, and prints. In 20012 it was easier because some of the photos had been made into digital files on the computer. There are still so many one of a kind prints that can’t be reproduced digitally. It’s scary. As an artist, your artwork represents so much of your life and time— so much of your soul. The saddest fire loss I ever saw was when Rose Cash’s house burned out west of Casper. She wasn’t exactly famous, but her paintings were the some of the best I’ve ever seen. She was old— eyesight and stamina gone. There was no way she could ever reproduce that beauty she’d once created. She’s gone now, but thinking about it still makes me cry.

  7. College BFF says:

    I’m so sorry for all those that lost there homes. I’m so glad you guys were safe though!

  8. Erica says:

    Every time I ask how you are doing in situations like this….you respond with a calm that I do not know…. How intense! to be in a situation where you have to think fast about what is important. I didn’t know so many people lost their homes. 🙁

  9. Sam says:

    Very well described and expressed! <3

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