Shortly after 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, we got an unexpected call from our Volunteer Coordinator, Ranger Jay Morris, and were told they had moved the date to burn the 180-acre sea of Johnson Grass prairie behind our motorhome up to Tuesday morning. Baylor University was predicting the conditions would be best at that time. So the rest of the day was spent sterilizing and refilling our water tanks, flushing the gray and black water tanks and generally getting prepared for moving to a “dry” campsite for at least the day, possibly more.
|Johnson Grass - The objective: to remove|
Dave and Sue, our comrades here at the park, had already scouted and found a couple of really nice campsites in the closed section, on a bluff, overlooking the lake. It wasn’t to be a real “dry camp”; electricity was available.
With the exception of not opening the gates at 6 a.m., the day started normally. Professors with their students from Baylor and COE Rangers with their equipment soon began to arrive. While they were getting organized, we and our neighbors began the move to our temporary home for the next couple of days.
|If this site would have had sewer and running water, you couldn't have gotten me out of here!|
|Sorry Folks! We're closed, for your own good!|
|Our site and the grass in the back yard? Johnson Grass, of course...all 180 acres!|
|Small back burns were created at first to protect telephone poles, etc.|
All the back-burns around the perimeter of the pastures were completed before the crews broke for lunch. As soon as their lunch was over, Dr White of Baylor University gathered his students and the fire crews and proceeded to go over a plan of action for the main burn. Emphasis was heavy on the safety aspects.
|After a short lunch, Dr White of Baylor University, gave instructions |
and procedures to both COE rangers and his students.
After the brief meeting, the business of getting on with the “burn” began. For those of you who have never seen or experienced a control burn up close, take my word for it. It is an awesome experience. It is not by any stretch “fun”. It is real and dangerous. The only difference between a controlled burn and a true wildfire, as I see it, is the burn crews start the control process before the real fire ever starts; whereas, with an out-of-control wildfire, all of the efforts are made to bring the situation under control after the fire is well underway and doing unwanted damage. Both are equally dangerous and constant caution must be taken.
Burn crews are working under the most grueling conditions imaginable, in stands of Johnson Grass taller than the fire crew members themselves. Once started, flames jump from one clump of the dry weed to another, sending flames upward to heights of 20 and 30 feet. Heavy gusts of wind push the flames first in one direction, then off to another. The oily smoke, heavily laden with soot and hot embers, creates a hell on earth for those in the midst of all of it. Fire crews must watch not only the burning in front, but the flames directly behind and off to either side.
Next time you are griping over the “inconvenience” of a park or campground closing when you want to go in, think about the following pictures and thank the rangers for opting to close, rather than put you at risk. As for myself, I thank you, USACE Rangers, for a job well done and a chance to watch you in action.
I really hope you enjoy these pictures.
|Dr. White directing crew in starting initial blaze.|
|Fire with back-fire well under way.|
|Baylor students creating back blaze directly behind our RV pad|
|Judy had to escape across the street to get this shot!|
|The fermament when both fire and back-fire collide!|
|Ranger Liz Anderson. Vigilance is a must!|
|Shimmering waves of heat can suck you dry.|
|The beauty of the beast!|
...and out of the firmament...
|This little fellow got the hot foot!|
|Visibility was less than a car length|
All of this ... took only about 10 minutes to completely burn and put itself out ... frightening!
180 acres up in smoke!