Chapter 44-A Firelight

Last month the national news kept our collective attention focused on the fires in Washington affecting thousands of families. This seems to be a yearly pattern on the west coast. A California friend travelled east this summer to her Massachusetts hometown and commented on FB about the green right side of the US. (I don’t know if California is brown or black now.)

Bitterroot 2000

Bitterroot 2000

The photo to the right is arguably the most famous wildfire photo taken. The forest in jeopardy was the Bitterroot Valley in Montana recorded by John McColgen, a BLM firefighter in August of 2000. Feel the heat.

I think we have been fortunate in North Carolina since we have been experiencing drought conditions; the thoughts of a forest fire around my log home is terrifying. (So I try not to think about it.) Three months ago a beautiful home in our neighborhood woods burned to the ground in 30 minutes, and if it weren’t for the rapid response of our volunteer fire department, the damage could have been far worse. Nobody was injured and the fire was contained to about three acres. We gave the firemen a huge party and money for more equipment.

Smokey Bear Danger lurked everywhere this summer. I could smell the smoke from 35 miles away in the Pisgah Forest where hundreds of acres burned from a lightning strike. The mountainous terrain forced firefighters to create a wide berm and hope for rain.

My personal interaction with fire is watching my husband work all summer to accumulate wood, split it, pile it at the back door and in the woodshed for the approaching winter. I admire the first fire of fall. When it gets cold and he builds a fire, I sit in front of it. By January, it’s a necessity, and I’m thankful for a warm house, but I look at it only when I am putting on another log. Yes, I am a Princess!

It has been more than a hundred years since the legendary fire in this area burned most of the little town of Marion, the county seat I wrote about in my Brackett Town series. (I also use Marion for a setting in my short story about the 1916 historical flood in “Dead Man Hanging” published in HISTORY & MYSTERY, OH MY!)

Which brings up mention of the fire my friend Mary Glenn remembers in Montford Cove in the early 1900’s. She lived in the Morgan house at the base of Tom’s Mountain where the Hutton & Bourbonnais logging company cut timber with a steam-powered crosscut saw and hauled logs out with huge work horses. “It must have been in March because they didn’t cut timber in the summer time. And I remember the snow. We had rough weather back then, and the wind was blowing hard. It could have been a spark that caught the mountain on fire. Back then we had a rural telephone with the switchboard in Union Mills with the Mashburns. My brother called and the CCC boys came out from their camp in Spindale to fight the fire. We didn’t even have volunteer fire departments back then.”

I had forgotten about the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program for unemployed and unmarried males ages 18-23. According to Wikipedia this was part of Roosevelt’s New Deal from 1933-1942, but it was phased out when the draft for WWII started in 1942. In the meantime, they did the US a good service by planting nearly three billion trees, constructing more than 800 parks nationwide, updating forest firefighting methods, and building a network of service buildings and roadways in remote areas.

Down the Cove a ways from the Morgan house, turn by the only commercial building, the White House general store, and go a couple miles past lush farmland. There is a house built in 1826, back when there were no fire departments volunteer or otherwise, and no CCC boys. The inside stairway burned, and all they had was a bucket and a creek. And family. It is remarkable two homes are still standing, built by the Ledbetters whose background I share in the Nanney Saga starting with Chapter 19.

Now let me tell you their Cinderella story…



Copyright 2015 Georgia Wilson

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