“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

― Frank Herbert

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"The fire got out of control"


As I started typing this post,  two of the scanners came on.  Both had "tone" signals. The way it works, different components of the local first responder and law units have a "tone." So when something happens that involves large numbers of these people, the message over the radio is preceded by a sequence of tones. If your tone plays, the message is for you.

I hear it a lot but there were a lot of tones in this string. That told me something bad was happening. When the message came over, it was the one I dread the most.  Some old guy was out burning a pile of scrap wood, and the wind, which is strong today, carried sparks into the woods and now the woods are burning. I know this is a bad one because I heard the forest service tone, which means the local fire guys need help.

On the wall is a large topo map of the surrounding area. I found the place where the fire is , and it is on the other side of the county from me. I am safe, then.  Who would be burning today when it is high wind, low humidity, and outdoor fires are prohibited?  I live in fear of forest fires. My home is way out in the woods, with only a vehicle trail to get in and out of. That trail is so overgrown with trees that in summer it's like driving through a green tunnel.  A fire could easily cut me off up here,and that would be the end of me. Around the buildings, 180 degrees is cleared for the meadow, but the other 180 degrees, the woods come right up to the house. And as most of you know, my buildings are all cedar log, with cedar shake roofs.  Twice in the last 30 years, fires have come close to burning me out, but the forest service saved the day both times. Even so, I keep a brief case full of important papers, and a carrying cage for the ferrets, ready to go in case I have to bail out.

The radio is really popping.  Bad radio discipline, the fire crews are "stepping on" each other. I'm keeping half an ear on all this as I write.  I know it can't reach me here. Not this time, anyway,


We are planting blue berries today.  My wife says the bushes are two years old, and that they will grow and provide us with blue berries if the chickens don't eat them.  I can't do any of the digging yet, but my part of the job is to string chicken wire around the bushes so the chickens can't destroy them. With my wife home now, gardening is going to be a priority. Gardening to her is like guns to me.



In early April my kids came home for a week. It was an unexpected visit, they came to help out while I was "in dry dock" and not able to do much around the place.  With their help,   M (my wife) got the outside of the place all spruced up and my son did a lot of repair work I wasn't able to get to.  I like to sit out here in the sun.

The fire saga is really getting going now so I am finishing up here and following that.  I am trying to come by everyone's blogs so be patient with me about that.



46 comments:

  1. Harry - at the beginning of the year we both quit the vfd. we told our friends if anything was happening, to call us and we would come and help. but after years of trying to implement changes, institute some policies and procedures, helping out at all of the events (meaning we cleaned everything while everyone else sat around!) - jambaloney finally lost his nut at the january fire department meeting when "new business" was getting some breathing apparatuses. we discussed that at our very first meeting and now it's 5 yrs later and we are still discussing it. so with jambaloney having so much work with Lobsters R Us, and us having put off all kinds of projects to go to events and whatnot - we put our foot down and said no more. as well as the fact that our fire pager only went off some of the time and most times it went off, we couldn't hear the msg and would have to call one of our friends to find out what was going on. a friend of ours here said that the vfd is really good at saving basements. they weren't wrong.

    as for brushfires - we've only had one idiot occurrence thank goodness. some stupid city people came out fishing for the weekend or something and didn't put their fire out properly. we got that call and raced to get there. when we got there, there was only 2 people there - a guy with a bad back and a 70yr old man. we have 8 people 70 or older on our 14 member vfd...you seeing the problem? jambaloney jumped in and took the one guys back pack from him and sent him over to rest. then a few other people showed up and we got the fire contained. if it had have jumped the road it would have been awful - but we contained it.

    Harry - you know that me and jam will do anything to help anyone but our vfd saves basements. no training, no equipment - we said enough is enough. i mentioned at one of our meetings that we should have "policies and procedures" put in place and i volunteered to start that documentation and then get input from the group. one of the 70yr olds said "we've never needed policies and procedures before...why do we need them now?". arghghghg.

    we worry about fire here too as we are surrounded by forest. but a friend of ours gave us a 1,000 litre water holding tank, jambaloney got perfectly good working fire hose that the vfd was getting rid of and we have several pumps. maybe you should do some kind of similar set up. needless to say, if we ever have a fire here, i'll be calling you, Pioneer Preppy and Sweet Sandy before calling our vfd. it's that bad.

    sorry for this rambling comment - i guess i just needed to get it off my chest. i completely understand that fire would be a scary thing for you, being where you are and having a house made of wood. like i said earlier - do you have a water storage tank, hose and pump in case of a fire? if not, you could get a set up pretty cheap (in comparison to losing everything in a fire) and in the event of a fire, you could call in your local fire department but at the same time, be spraying down your house and closest trees.

    your wife is making your deck look beautiful. i understand why you like sitting out there. good luck with the blueberries and ask if her if she wants any particular seeds. i have tons of seeds - flower and veg - and i can send them to her. did she ever plant the lupin seeds? i can send her more of those if she would like.

    sending love always to you and yours! your friend,
    kymber

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    1. maybe you're a better person than I am, but I'd have strongly considered walking out at that point. That attitude may have gotten those old boys by in the past when they were younger but now they are much older, they'll get people killed with that attitude.... don't let it be Jam. They'll likely want to hang back and let the younger guys put it all on the line, for all we know, when a dangerous situation presents itself. And with not "policies and procedures" to fall back on when the adrenaline is flowing.

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    2. arrr. bad writing on that last sentence.

      With no policies and procedures in place when something big happens and the adrenaline is flowing, guess who'll be the ones getting seriously hurt or killed.

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    3. Matt - glad to see you out buddy!and yes - you get it! when i went on the nova scotia's guidelines for volunteer fire department members' requiring medical testing - i laughed my fool head off. the only 2 people who could pass their "suggested" medical requirements are me and jambaloney. so we decided to start our own vfd - me and jambaloney taking care of me and jambaloney and helping other people out when we can.

      here's one to get your head spinning...we went on a training day down to the fire hall 2yrs ago. we showed up on time...the fire chief showed up a half hour later. he is a really nice guy but no one in their right mind would have him as fire chief. he's been the fire chief for our 2 communities for over 12 years! no one else showed up. so he started with "teaching" us about the walkie-talkie in the truck. it went like this "marmbly-parmbly-marmbly - not sure what this channel is for - marmbly- parmbly - sharmbly". then he showed us allllll of the non-existant equipment in the truck....by this time jamaloney had climbed on top of the truck and asked what a certain door thing was for. the chief climbed up to give jambaloney a full tour....and that door...that's where you fill the fire truck with water. our chief "marmbly-parmbly - there's no water in the truck??? marmbly-parmbly - someone is going to have to look into that". jambaloney almost quit the fire department right then but you know me - little miss always expecting that things will get better kept us on the vfd for another 2 yrs. oh and btw - that's the only training we ever got except for st. john's first aid.

      oh Matt - it's awful. and i should have included you in the list of people we would call first in the event of a fire here. i figure it would take you about 18hours to get here but that would still be faster than our vfd and you could actually help.

      crazy eh, buddy! love you alot. your friends,
      kymber and jambaloney

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    4. It's ok..... As scatter brained as I am any more, I'd probably end up on Oak Island there nearby you and get lost digging around for that treasure.

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    5. holy crap! NOBODY knows about Oak Island and i am SURE there is treasure there! want to plan a trip out to visit? i'm sure among the 4 of us we could find that treasure....and then la-la-la! oxoxo

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    6. Sounds about right, although there is actually a series on TV about the hunt for the treasure. It's called, "The Curse of Oak Island".

      Hey, changing the subject, have you heard anything about Linda over at Practical Parsimony? Seems she's been MIA for 3 months now with no explanation.

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    7. I, too, watch "The Curse of Oak Island" bwahahaha No secret there, kymber.

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    8. Our fire department is pretty well organized. We always make a donation every year during their fire drive, since it is widely rumored that those who donate tend to get better service than those who don't when a house fire starts. I know in 2012, when my wood burning stove chimney went nova, they were right on the job. And , they had to cut the massive lock off my gate, then they drove up to the meadow, where I had parked my truck to keep anybody from driving in (no way around the trail there), so they had to hump all their gear up on their backs. They never complained or cussed me out at all. And they got the fire out. The only thing that went sour was the county then sent me a bill for $1200. Now, if the fire department is volunteer and the county doesn't pay them, whence this bill? I got really mad and drove up to the court house and crashed the county commissioners office. But he told me that the county hired some company in New York to send bills like that. He said I should send it to my insurance company, and they would pay some part of it, and that would be that. Sounded like a scam to me but I did it. Sure enough, USAA said almost all municipalities and rural counties do that now, and that it was legit because the county pays for the upkeep of the engines, equipment and fire houses (which I didn't know.) So USAA sent me a check for $500, and I hand carried it to the fire station, and they were all happy.

      This county is about 70% national forest, so the Forest Service has a deal with the county. If there is a fire in the national forest, the county sends crews and equipment. If there is a really bad fire the volunteer fire department in the county can't handle, the Forest Service sends their crews and equipment, and they even have a Huey to drop fire retardant chemicals if need be.

      I remember reading about Oak Island as a kid. Seems like people have been getting drowned in that pit for a long time.

      I think I'd be done for if fire reached the buildings, Kymber. Even with a hose and tank, 30 year old cedar logs and shakes would burn like a torch. I really need to put metal roofs on all my buildings. The last estimate I got was $8000 just to do the main building though, and I feel sure I can do better than that.

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    9. Kymber, M did plant those seeds, but I don't know how they did as all I see is little rows of green things in black buckets filled with potting soil. I never know what's what.

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    10. I've seen the Oak Island thing too and saw an additional story on it on "mysteries of the museum

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  2. Harry - We, too, live in fear of fire here. We have tried to keep the trees back from the house, but the 'paca paddocks / stable are all wood. The nearest town has an antiquated fire engine with a 1 000lt water tank - completely useless as it would be emptied in 10 seconds - and, apart from our dam (which is almost empty due to the drought - 1 mm of rain so far this month) there is no way of refilling the tanker :[

    Glad your wife is getting her garden going. T'is very important for a wife to have her own "mission" ;)

    Stay safe.

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    1. P.S. I see you skulking behind the petunias and begnonias... ;)

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    2. Everything I have accumulated over 63 years of living is in our buildings. All my books, our knick knacks from overseas, all the million and one bits and pieces that make up a home. I think my guns would be ok as the safes are rated fire proof, but everything else would go. I can get the dogs and the ferrets out in the truck, and the indoor cats. But the outdoor cats would have to make for the river, and the chickens would have to fly off to safety or be roasted.

      Yep. That's me. I like to sit out there in the spring, when it's still cool and the air is dry. Later, in the summer, it will only be habitable on the deck in early evening or early morning.

      We went and got three new potted plants she wanted yesterday, and we brought out some of the indoor plants and hung them on the front porch. She has some that have to come back in the house in the winter.

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  3. This a bad time of the year. When I was a firefighter I was always busy chasing brush fires in the spring. Worse when it's dry and school kids are on April vacation.

    Glad this one isn't too near you. People have no idea how fast fire can spread.

    Right now there's high fire danger in the southern part of the state, but we are still good here. Chance of rain on Monday and Tuesday so that should green things up a bit.

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    1. Low humidity and high winds here in spring make it dangerous, and we haven't had any real rain in some time. Plus, we have a large spring and summer population of oldsters. Many of them are from Florida. They just don't realize how fast the woods will go up here if they once get started.

      In the summer, it's tourists from Atlanta that are the danger. They habitually walk off from a camp fire, the wind blows sparks into the underbrush, and it's off to the races.

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  4. Given that the roof shakes are getting a it long in the tooth, it might be time to think about replacing them with a metal roof and an exterior sprinkler system on the soffits of the house so you can easily flip a valve and hose down the walls in the event of a nearby forest fire. I'd be keeping a chainsaw handy as well should you need to start taking down trees quickly to make a fire break.

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    1. Something like this would not be to difficult to put together and would give you a fighting chance.
      http://www.blazecontrol.com/fixed_systems.html

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    2. I'm afraid my days of cutting down trees may be over.

      You're right about the shake roofs, they need to be replaced. But my problem is this. Slowly but surely, construction here has been coming back from the debacle of 2007-2008. Wealthy people from Florida come up here, and they contract out the "second home" on a mountain top or at the lake. This place has a limited number of contractors who live here, and they would rather work on a big job for somebody who either doesn't care or doesn't know how to figure the cost of a house. Not somebody like me who drives a hard bargain. So the last estimate I got for metal roofing on my buildings, they wanted $8000 just for the main house, let alone the shop and the barn.

      I do need some limited fire fighting ability. I have a pump that puts out good pressure and a hose, but the pump could either crap out or burn up.

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    3. Metal roofs come in two varieties. The old fashioned standing seam and the newer 3 foot wide screw on panels. The standing seam stuff is pricey. The screw-on ones are not as nice but will do the job. If you have them around there, check with the big box stores they will sell you the material at a reasonable price and can arrange for the installation. Square for square installed, pricing should run you about 20% more than a regular asphalt shingle roof. But it is a life-time roof and it is maintenance free, and in your case will go a long way to protecting the house from falling embers. In the meantime a roof sprinkler might be the ticket. Here's one that would not be to difficult to rig up on your own next time your son is up for a visit.
      http://roofsaversprinklers.com/
      Basically a big garden sprinkler.

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  5. Hello Harry. We live in fear of fire in the summer, too. Although we live in the high desert, we are surrounded by sagebrush and dry grass, plus the local forest service is always at odds with the feds. It is always a territory issue with them so valuable time is lost. Also they love their controlled burns in the forest around us that always seem to get away from them. Your deck is lovely with so many flowers. Nothing blooming yet here and it is still frosty. Sprinklers on the roof are a good idea.

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    1. I think it was in 2005, my brothers and I went camping on the snake river in the high desert of Oregon. There were fires everywhere, just burning unattended. I have some good pictures of them somewhere. I forget the town we passed through, but there were fires burning all around it.

      While we were out there, at our campsite, lightning hit and started a big grass fire. My brothers and I went over there with shovels, and this retired navy chief who was camping nearby came, and we put that one out by ourselves.

      It's warm and sunny here by day now, but still cold at night.

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  6. I know how you feel about fire. I have woods on three sides of my home, and a pyromaniac living not 150 yards away.

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    1. That's not good. I could handle the woods but the pyromaniac would have to go!

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  7. To tie in with what Kymber was saying, if you look, you can buy obsolete fire trucks for cheap...Might be worth looking into one. Good for parades, if you need a new hobby (har har), but it might be nice to have water and a mobile pump on hand.

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    1. J, I don't know where I would park another vehicle. My house is built back into the side of the mountain, and the land is steep. I have three concrete parking pads, but you have to use one of them to turn around if you are parked in either of the other two. One of the things I did wrong here was not make a circular trail from the house to the jeep trail, but when we started it just washed out right away.

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  8. Harry,

    Good to see you're not doing too much of the heavy work. Listen to the boss your wife, "M"!!! We keep our radio's going as well. We've had numerous fires going this year. One up north of us at the state line burned over 600,000 acres. We have excuse my expression dumb A's..... who burn when there's a burn ban, people throwing cigarettes out their car windows, and those who don't understand their vehicle's can start fires if sitting on dry grass. It just irritates the living daylights out of me, people have no consideration for others,mother nature (the wilderness, and animals), families, homesteads, and farms. All they care about is what's happening to them in that very moment.
    Stay safe, keep an ear to the radio, and enjoy the garden your sweet wife is creating.

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    1. It seems to me, that far and away, the biggest threat to life and limb for us is other people. Yes, we have all sorts of animals up here but none of them have ever hurt us. On the other hand, we've had problems with human beings on a number of different levels. I am often amazed at the lack of common sense shown by individuals who come up into the woods from urban areas.

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  9. Hi Harry-I understand your concern about the fire. We live in the woods also. In 2011, we had so many fires in Texas. Every time I smelled smoke, I would "freak out." We were under a burn ban, but some people would continue to burn or set off fireworks. I talked to our local VFD chief. All he told me was that he hoped we had good insurance, because if a wildfire broke out, there would be little that the VFD could do. I worry about getting all my animals to safety if a fire should start. I hope you are feeling better. Glad to see that your wife is better and enjoying her gardening. Jana

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    1. Jana, one reason I keep a bank of scanners is for early warning if a fire breaks out in my area. Being burned out is one of my biggest concerns. However, we have lived up here since 1986, and only had two really close calls. Maybe I can live on out the rest of my life without another one.

      I watched the big fires out west on the television last summer and I was appalled that people ran off and left their animals.

      M is enjoying the nice weather and now that she is home and can take care of her plants we are going to town on it. Yesterday we bought three more potted plants to hang on the back deck. My wife wants to raise some tomatoes so I have to put up wire around the plants .

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  10. Hope all is well at the moment with the Bush fire Harry. I know what it is like to wait to see if the fire is coming you way or going to pass you by.

    Funnily enough I had a brush with a bush fire last weekend, I just emailed you about it. Stay out of trouble.

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    1. Sgt, I haven't got the email yet, but will keep checking. I know you folks have really hellish fires, Australia is always on the news in our winter with big fires. I always hope the Koalas and other animals are able to get away.

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  11. Oh my, that's the worst kind of threat ever. Good thing you stay tuned in to the radio.

    Once your blueberries get established there should be enough for everybody - people, chickens, goats, bears. Chickens only get what falls to the ground. It's the taller critters I worry about. :)

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    1. Well, you know, I never thought about the bears coming down for the berries. If they come at night and are gone by dawn I don't guess it matters.

      The chickens are great destroyers of flowers and plants. This place looked like the garden of Eden up here, and then I got chickens and goats and in short order it looked like the aftermath of Nagasaki. Also, the chickens get blamed for any damage that we can't figure out who else might have done!

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  12. We have had some bad ones outside of the large urban area in which we live but within an hour of us. Biggest fears are lightning strikes (which cannot be controlled) and fools (which can be).

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    1. I think here all the serious fires have been started by the latter category. People burning trash, or not watching their camp fires, seem to be the biggest threat. As well as the occasional single wind trailer in the woods that explodes when the meth recipe goes wrong.

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  13. I understand your fear of fire we had two nasty fires here "Waldo canyon & Black forest" 2012/2013 that burned more than 800 houses down. Cutting back trees and under brush along with a metal roof will really help your situation out. Also hot embers will travel much more than the mile our local forest service says. We are several miles east of where the Waldo Canyon fire did its worst damage and we had red hot embers raining down on us.

    Eric.

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    1. Those are valid concerns. Especially in times of drought, this mountain is thick with different kinds of pine trees and firs, all of which will go up like a torch. It doesn't take a lot to set them off.

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  14. Hey Harry...

    Fires have been going on around here too. It stays as dry as it has been, and I am afraid this summer is going to be really bad for it.
    We keep our radios going too, having a scanner is not only a need if you live out and away from everyone, but its also entertainment. I can't tell you how many nights we sit on the porch and just listen to it...

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    1. I am constantly amazed at some of the things on the scanner. Of course, from time to time some instances of bizarre events crop up but usually it's family disputes, suspicious old ladies calling in to complain about unknown vehicles at neighbors houses, horses or cows on the road, etc.

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  15. I get worried about fires too, being wooded They have taken ashtrays out of cars so the smokers must either not smoke, have an ashtray in the car or they throw them out of the car. Then there are the people who are burning but it gets out of hand, yes, on a windy day. Happened to our neighbors and fortunately another neighbor was driving by and they jumped out to help and got it under control, along with the firemen.

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    1. Burning trash is a big one here. My rule is that if my flags are stirring on the pole, I don't burn. I try not to burn unless there has recently been rain. We are having showers today and I burned two huge bags of stored up paper trash.

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  16. We are just glad your back.
    Where I used to live it was wind country, rolling grasslands and hills. A man who had ranched there all his life burned garbage on a very wind day. The burning barrel blew over and rolled down the slope below it as only a barrel will do. The fire burned 54,000 acres of ranch and pasture land, jumped two four lane highways and finally got stopped by a irrigation dam.
    http://www.producer.com/2013/02/grass-recovers-following-destructive-blaze/

    God Bless you and your mountain....

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    1. Wow, when that guy messed up, he did it on a lavish scale. Here it's usually just a burning piece of paper blowing out of the barrel that literally starts the fireworks.

      I appreciate the kind sentiments, Fiona.

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  17. We had a for scare here recently too. I blogged about it with some pictures I took from our driveway, and the pasture next to our horses served as a landing pad for the helicopter. I hope you are getting the same rain as us which helps. Good to see you back. I planted some blueberries too but I don't have much luck from them historically. Maybe these will be different.

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    1. Lisa, I need to go back and read your posts for the last month. Been completely out of the loop and need to catch up. I'm glad your place didn't get burned out. Those helicopter pilots are crazy, better watch out for those guys! ;-)

      We have also planted some squash, tomatoes, and peppers. My wife is motivating me to get us a little garden going this year and move on to bigger things next year. I hope we get some blue berries, I like those chilled with a little brown sugar on them.

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