Today was my first day of work on the Barta Brother’s research ranch, and when Ben and I came home from town where we were picking up equipment, there was a giant plume of smoke off to the north.

The neighbors perked up their ears and we all started making calls, and pretty soon the volunteer rigs from miles around were showing up with flashing lights and tanks of water – and that plume was getting bigger and bigger. We grabbed what we could and headed for the blaze. We could see the hungry tongues of flame licking up the winter’s dry grass, cresting hilltops and filling valleys and leaving behind a swath of black ash. The crews worked quickly and soon we had the fire surrounded, spraying down the leaping flames to a temperature at which the ground crews could come in and work clean-up, smothering the embers and smoking cow-pies.

I worked frantically at edge of the blackline, literally putting out the fire with my hands as I scooped handfuls of sand from nearby gopher mounds onto the tenacious flames. My pitiful rake didn’t do much more than make them angry, at times, and I stomped out several little buggers with my boots. We kept a constant eye on the ground we had already put out – as sometimes embers from inside the blackline can jump up and cause a flare-up. As I drove around the ashy perimeter to attend the glorious duty of smothering smoking shit, I noticed that there were lots of funny little fingers of black sticking out from the main swath, where little flare-ups had gotten away before someone doused them with a hose. One flare-up got away from us, so we tended the edge of it and let it burn into the other blackline. It's a really weird feeling, standing there with a rake in your hand, watching the grass go up in flames and knowing that there's nothing you can do about it, looking out at the ground you've already put out and seeing the smoking cow turds looking like lava pockets on a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

It seemed like it didn’t take long for the flames to be under control, but in reality, we were there for a good four hours or better, and the fire burned up a lot of ground. It took out two shelterbelts and about four pastures worth of grass. I’m still not sure what started it. I remember the summer before my baby brother was born; there were a lot of fires that year, in miles and miles of grass with nothing to stop it. My dad spent days fighting fires and I felt bad that I was far too little to help. Today I got to be a big girl and fight a wildfire. However, I really hope that I don’t have to do that again anytime soon! I still have soot in my ears and nose!

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