The Devil is in the Details

August 21, 2012

“The Devil is in the Details” tends to be an overused phrase when an issue has reached general consensus and only fine tuning remains. We may all agree a road needs to be built but argue over whether it should be gravel or paved. You and your spouse may both feel like dinner and a movie. Trouble is; she wants lobster and a love story, while you feel more like simple appetizers and an action flick. So while we are fortunate when general agreement exists, the hard part and the important part, truly is that fine print.

This summer has been one of the driest, hottest, and windiest summers in some time. Furnace like conditions has put much of our country in a parched state that rivals the dust bowl era. Crops have failed, depleted pastures have forced the early sale of cattle, and water storage levels are at dangerously low levels. While these examples don’t necessarily affect everyone, one byproduct of these tinder-like conditions has everyone’s attention.

Front page after front page of the local papers has featured stories on the wildfires that have ravaged our area. Even history buffs would be hard pressed to point to a more devastating fire season. And as the poem goes, we still have “miles to go before we sleep” in terms of dangerous fire conditions.

It is certainly redundant of me to say emotions run at fever pitch when homes and possessions are lost and the aesthetic value of property is forever changed. Many in our area have had way too much of these unwanted experiences this summer. Our hearts go out to those who lost so much in the Charlotte and other fires this summer. Those of us unaffected can only imagine the extent to which their world has been turned upside down.

We are so fortunate to have dedicated professionals and volunteers to combat wildfires. Their coordinated efforts have certainly kept the catastrophic nature of this fire season from being much worse and they are to be commended. I suspect the fatigue and stress they face must be considerable. I do believe there are additional resources we can take advantage of. Allow me to explain.

Recently a fire broke out about a mile from my home. I was among the first who arrived at the scene. At that point the fire was about 200’ from our neighbor’s home and closing fast. I hurried back to my house and jumped in my tractor hoping to use the front-end loader to help plow a fire break. Other neighbors did the same. On my way back I was stopped by a county officer and not allowed to go further. It was very frustrating for me and others knowing that our neighbor’s home was in great danger and there was nothing we could do to help.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that an organized, safe, effort needs to be in place in order to be successful in containing a fire. Having said that, we need to appreciate that those neighbors and volunteers fighting the fire before the professionals arrive do not become brain-dead once they do. Often times the locals understand what resources are available, such as water, equipment, or the lay of the land.

I have asked for and been graciously granted a meeting next week with the commissioners, sheriff, and emergency coordinator. My hope is simply to explore what opportunities and rights citizens have that will allow neighbors to help neighbors. It’s important to me and I believe many others to have the right to help protect our property.

In the end our neighbor’s house was saved, barely, though they did lose their winter hay supply and had significant smoke damage. Later a very disturbing thought occurred to me. If I can’t help a neighbor in need, it doesn’t take much to connect the dots to know where my neighbors will be if I have a problem.

No doubt the general consensus is that when fire breaks out we want it put out as soon as possible. In my opinion there is an important role that neighbors can play in these efforts, particularly in rural areas. The key is to identify when that help is appropriate, can be safely offered, and protocols to take advantage of those next door resources.

The day may come when planes, helicopters, and firefighters are spread too thin to cover all the bases. Many hands make light work and many are willing to help. While working out the details might be difficult, I believe we should at least try. After all having a formal dinner and watching a Bond movie isn’t all bad, is it?