A dry lightning storm started a prairie fire just about a quarter mile west of our place. The town siren alerted the volunteer fire department – nearly every man in town. Many times before the prairie fire the siren had been a signal for curious kids to run to watch the volunteers save a building. We arrived one or two at a time depending how far we had to run. The day of the prairie fire my shirttail cousins the Ranum boys and I arrived first. Some women were already using wet gunny sacks to smack the burning grass so we grabbed sacks and followed their lead.
An east wind blew the smoke and fire away from town when it started but the wind changed direction and the fire started moving our way. Van Hook’s only fire truck moved along the spreading fire line and men sprayed water but they could not keep up with the wind fanned fire. The fire line just got longer so by the time the truck got to one end, the matted grass was aflame at the other end. Someone pulled a water tank truck near the fire line so the fire truck could refill its tank. During refill time the fire gained ground towards town. Another person pulled a small water trailer to the fire site. When our sacks got nearly dry, we ran to the smaller water trailer to get the sack wet again and put our head under the spout to cool off. As soon as the fire truck tank was filled someone drove the water tanker back to the town well to be filled again.
It looked to me like the fire was making more progress than we were. Guff Olson appeared on the scene with his old cog wheel John Deer tractor pulling a twelve-foot wide eight-bottom plow. He drove the tractor and plow parallel to the fire line between us and the edge of town. Guff and his powerful tractor kept the plow moving at a slow but steady pace through the unbroken sod. He made two or three runs before the fire could advance to where he started. We kept the fire down until he turned over enough sod to break up the fuel source. His action may have saved the town or at least our home.
Burning prairie grass has a strange smell. The smell is not the same as clinkers and ashes on snow, but once you experience it, it is hard to forget. The next day it rained without lightning and wind.
Wet, recently burnt grass has a strange and unforgettable smell.