Pioneer Potluck: About Alaskan forest fires, part 2

  • By Grannie Annie
  • Tuesday, June 10, 2014 3:46pm
  • LifeFood

Swanson River Fire 1959

Funny River Fire 2014

I jumped in the Jeep parked in front of my car with my buddy Paul. Betty jumped in my big old Plymouth station wagon with seven kids and valuables-no seat belts in those days. She roared into gear and almost hit me before I could get the Jeep’s started and out of her way. The way out of the fire was to head to the beach. The trail out of the homestead was deep and narrow with ruts.

I could see in the rear view mirror, Betty trying to keep up with me, fish tailing and bouncing from side to side down the long narrow trail in my big blue and black four-door Plymouth station wagon.

I was so excited myself that when I saw some rabbits, spruce hens, fox’s and coyotes running down the same trail in front of me, I started to scream, “run bunnies run” over again. I opened up the canvas door of the Jeep at one time, while still in motion, to see if I was going to run over a bunny in the trail. I scared Paul so badly, he thought I was jumping out of the Jeep.He started crying, clapping his hands and say and “run bunnies run” over and over. I was busy keeping the Jeep on the trail and looking in the mirror to see if Betty was in the right tracks and not hung up in some treetop and trying to calm Paul.

We made it to the edge of the beach, bounced off the shelf that the tide had made and onto the sandy beach, turning, churning and spinning, throwing rocks and sand everywhere. We finally got to this small fishing shack that had been on the beach for years. We herded the kids out of the car, into the shack with Betty jabbering at whoever-we gotta feed the kids, we gotta feed the kids. She kept saying repeating over and over! “No we don’t!” I shouted back, “it’s not supper time yet!”

Just then a big thick cloud of smoke rolled over the top of the bluff and onto the beach, choking us. Betty and I unwrapped the guns, (every gun was loaded) and lead the kids to the edge of the water of Cook Inlet, soaked the towels in water, placed them over the heads of our kids and over our heads. We set by to waters edge with moose, bears, coyotes and a couple of wolves, that hung back watching us with their beady, bright eyes, rabbits, and yes small bunnies, a lone fox, a bunch of spruce hens and various birds. We sat at the waters edge for a long time before the smoke cleared.

We ate later but I don’t remember much about that, my stomach was tied in knots. Then we heard a pickup coming down the beach. It was my husband and Gene looking for us to see if we were all safe.

They had been caught in the middle of the fire and had to push burning trees and brush out of the way to get to the homestead just in time to be bombed by the pink fire retardant that had been released from the airplanes above. Our nice new blue Ford pickup was bright pink. The guys were black with soot. They told us exactly what we had worried so much about, setting on the beach under the wet towels-was the homestead safe? Yes, they said, but the house is bright pink and the potato field was plowed up to make a firebreak. All Betty and I could do was cry.

Just as fast as the fire roared through it was gone. The Army and National Guard stayed in tents set up along the trail into the homestead, to take care of any hotspots. They were gone in a couple a days but the scar’s from the fire lasted for years and years, all because someone camping on Swanson River did not put out a little campfire.

We had wonderful neighbors that had big D-8 cats that worked wonders and kept everyone’s home from burning by pushing away trees from the houses and making firebreaks. If it had not been for them and the CB there would have been a lot of personal loss.

Our six kids and Betty’s daughter, through the years, told us that they did not know there was a fire until Betty and I started running in and out of the house, shouting at each other. They thought we had lost our mind or that we were mad at each other.

I still see all the kids watching from behind trees wondering what those crazy ladies were doing running back and forth from the house with streaming toilet paper, clanking silverware and then coming back out with guns! It’s a very funny picture now and one that we still talk about.

 

This story was suggested by Susan Jordan – one of my daughters that witnessed the fire and the deeds of “two crazy ladies.”

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