Friday, July 13, 2007

Recovery...Begins At Last!

Things are almost back to normal in Fall River County South Dakota; the Alabaugh Canyon fire is 100% contained, the Type 2 Wildfire crews will leave town tomorrow, people are getting back to their business, foundations are being cleared and houses planned. Many of the burned out victims have moved back on their properties in campers while they clean up, and begin to rebuild, not only their homes, but their lives.

There were something over 500 persons at David Beeman's memorial services yesterday, Morris Nelson, UMC pastor of the United Churches, preached a good salvation message, the Masonic committal services were impressive (even though I have been a funeral director in a major Masonic area years ago, I had NEVER seen the Masonic ritual, the Masons in the funeral homes always sent us 'gentiles' on other calls).

Total containment costs will run over $2.6 million, thirty three homes were destroyed, one civilian death, and three hospital injuries sustained by firefighters. One of the benefits of the Alabaugh was the level of cooperation and compassion shown by the residents of the greater Hot Springs area, as they banded together, served meals, assisted in the shelter, arranged for child care, clothing and household goods...and animal care for pets and livestock, some volunteers got fireline passes to go in and feed and water stock while the fire crews were occupied fighting hot spots.

As I drove through the fire ground Tuesday after the roadblocks had been lifted, I was taken by the nature of this fire...extremely intense in one spot, and adjacent to a hard burn, a stand of pines, still in full needle, grass without a mark. One house down to the foundations, with nothing visible of the house that once was, and the attached carport standing with an unharmed vehicle within.

One man reported to me yesterday of going home on Saturday night after the fire had started to really take off, looked around his trailer, saw no sign of any fire at all, took off his boots and sat in his living room, heard a loud 'whoomp' from his bedroom, went back and saw a large flaming mass eat its way through the floor after coming through his roof. Another 'whoomp' from the front, and his trailer was afire. He left...quickly.

As I saw his trailer on Tuesday, it was surrounded by untouched dry, cured buffalo grass...totally destroyed, melted into an unrecognizable mass of aluminum, with a three step set of stairs rising from the ground in front of it.

The Alabaugh Canyon Fire, as horrifying as it was, may serve to teach us better wildland practices and policies, particularly relating to the former practice of knocking down every wild woods and grass fire as it starts. If the Alabaugh Canyon area had been allowed to burn in a prescribed manner years ago, as some of the residents had asked, there would not have been the copious amounts of tinder dry fuel available, combined with our seven years of drought and a very active thunderstorm on Saturday afternoon, to let it become the most intense fire ever in South Dakota. Fire and forestry officials have taken that under consideration, and a change in fire management and prevention policy for all government woodlands and grasslands may be the outcome. If so, the Alabaugh Fire was, in a way, worth it.

I spoke to a firefighter friend, whose wife is still on the scene with their rural volunteer department, within whose territory the Alabaugh Canyon fire started, and who were the first responders Saturday night, who has been released from duty, and is now driving through the burn zone, matching people with the resources they need to begin putting it all back together. In his words, "I have to heal myself, I am full of 'crap', and this is the only way I can work that out of my system".

All in all, as we get back to our lives, we in Hot Springs and Fall River County are grateful to all who gave of themselves for us; those who prayed for a moderation of the weather and the fire behavior; those who worked unceasingly for our benefit.

To God be the Glory, great things He has done! We are grateful to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for those who grown closer to Him through this ordeal by fire, and we expect to see great signs of His blessing in the lives of those in our commuity, and in the life of our community. We have grown closer, more tolerant of others and their foibles, more mindful of their needs and desires.
May the God of all mercy attend to the needs of His children here and eleswhere as we all seek to serve Him. Amen.

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