Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapel Bluff Burns

Over the children's spring break vacation from school, our family went to on one of our annual pilgrimages to my in-laws farm in central Missouri. My husband's mother & step-father live on several hundred acres near at Macks Creek, Missouri. "The Farm" is a misnomer. The land, once used to support a dairy, has been added to in acreage and now is more of a ranch in true definition. My father-in-law, Grandpa C., raises cattle for sale.

Although he has not sought the designation for his product, the beef is essentially organic as the cattle are free range, grass-fed and without interventionist antibiotic treatmeants. We are the lucky recepients of "Clopp beef," which is not dyed (like most supermarket hamburger) and so lean that as cook you must ADD oil to receipies when using the beef!

My suburban-raised kids (and I) love exploring, hiking, investigating, four-wheelering, & running about every inch of the land. Situated on what is know as Dry Ridge, the farm is part high grassland and part rocky woods.

About three miles to the southeast of the farm, feeding into the Lake of the Ozarks, is the Little Niangua River. On the western bank, overlooking that portion of the river is a beautiful limestone bluff known as Chapel Bluff. So striking is the bluff and the commanding view of the east-bank valley that the entire area is known as Chapel Bluff.

Grandpa C. as told us many stories of how is father grew up in Chapel Bluff and of the river side land he farmed when he was young. In fact, Grandpa C.'s grandfather was one of the original homesteaders in the area. A street sign on the gravel road bears his name.

When we arrived in Mack Creek, the low, shadowy haze of smoke hung throughout the valley. Walking around the property near the house, we quickly determined that the smoke was heavy enough to keep the children indoors.

Grandpa C. and Grammy explained that fires were battled all over the county and adjoining counties for over a week. It is commonplace for farmers to "burn-off" the overgrown grass and scrub from their lands. But some fires had gotten out of control, spreading wildly.

Forest service aircraft had dumped water in the area and agents had visited. It is shameful to say but some of the fires had been intentionally set. Within an hour of our arrival, Grandpa C. & Luke were called away to help fight a grass fire (undoubtly set on purpose) near the home of an elderly county resident. As the sun set, smoke seemed to blanket the entire area and we watched the glow of a small fire to the south of the property and that of a huge blaze to the south-east. Chapel Bluff was burning.

Grandpa C. said he had seen many, many fires over the years but it was unsual to see so much land burning at once. On their way home from assisting the neighbor in need, Grandpa C. and Luke passed fire trucks from several municipalities and counties, mostly volunteer, fighting the fire. In turn, the trucks drove down the hilly country in gravel roads edged by four foot high flaming grass to the creek. There the trucks syphoned water to carry back to the fire line.

Literally, fighting fire with fire, families scattered in the hills, lite their own fires to back-burn away from their homes, creating a fire break or dead space the wild fire could not cross. My husband told us of a family, small children lined up on the gravel road, while the adults worked their own protective fire ringing their house.

The power at the house flickered as transformers were damaged by fire. Fortunately, rain came that night, ending the worst of the fire at both Chapel Bluff and on the south of my in-laws property. Perhaps fifty or so acres had burned on the farm. In the Chapel Bluff area, however, several thousand acres burned. We drove the area with the children the next day. The trees remain. The wild turkey's feasted on "popcorn," roasted insects, eagerly plucked from the charred ground. The grass and veggetation will return. It will be interesting to watch the land as it mends itself and grows green again.

1 comment:

  1. In early March the kids and I saw evidence of lots of "runaway" fires as we drove I-70 East toward St. Louis. One fire in particular was being fueled with a vengenace burning up the farmer's fence posts, and jumping a small creek that separated the field from the highway shoulder. Smoke was thick and we could smell the fire for miles!