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Posted 8/29/12 (Wed)


Another county fair has come and gone. The Slope County Fair and Rodeo celebrated its 92nd annual get-together. Now, since I have had the wonderful opportunity to attend numerous events, I have been asked to rate them. And although it may upset some people in Harding County, I have to put Slope County near the top. Right now, I have Calgary first, Amidon second, Camp Crook third, and Las Vegas fourth. Elite company for small county fairs. And to be honest with you, the Bloody Marys served by the fair board at Amidon push them up the list a long way!
Many of the attendees came off the fire lines. Three fires were started in southwestern North Dakota by lightning on Friday and ranchers and neighbors were fighting fire. At the same time, they were lining up 4-H exhibits and loading steers, lambs, hogs, rabbits, chickens, and goats. The moms were packing lunches and filling water jugs for firefighters, loading quilts and garden exhibits for town, and washing and starching white shirts for the kids. I tip my hat to all of you.
This summer has been a test for a lot of people. If you’ve never been through bad drought years, you don’t realize how trying it is. And all of us who live in more settled areas, just assume that things will get taken care of. If a fire breaks out, you call the fire number and those big trucks come and the fire is put out.
We tend to forget that those volunteers on rural fire departments are farmers and ranchers and schoolteachers and mechanics who live with a radio on their hip and leave their farms and ranches and factories when that radio statics a little. They run out from weddings or funerals or hay fields or family picnics. They are our neighbors, who oftentimes, leave their places unattended as they fight fire at a neighbor’s. A neighbor whom they may or may not know. The neighbor may live over the hill, across the river, or someone 50 miles from them.
Prairie fires are a fast moving demon. They can travel faster than man or truck can travel and create their own wind. A fire that is burning on a still day can quickly become a traveling monster. On a windy day, they can be nearly invincible.
And that is why farmers and ranchers jump on trucks and tractors and pickups with water tanks and spray coupes and grab wet sacks and slappers and shovels and hoes and head for the smoke in a heartbeat.
We were in Harding County for a fire at Matt’s and Carm’s a few years ago. Thanks to some courageous friends and neighbors, they stopped the fire a few yards from the house and yard. And we had the chance to meet and visit with these friends and neighbors. Heroes.
Many had been on the fire trucks since Monday morning. Lightning storms had started several fires. They were dispatching trucks from Ludlow and Camp Crook and little towns you had never heard of. And they were staying ahead of the fires. But once the fire is out, it takes a watchful eye to keep it under control. One little whirlwind or dust devil can take a spark and fan it into another wild fire.
These men and ladies had not been to bed for three or four days. Grab a nap on the ground or in the truck for a few minutes when you are too tired to take another step. Sleep for an hour draped over the steering wheel atop a butte when you feel the morning dew creeping in. Grab a sandwich delivered by the Camp Crook Bar if you get a chance.
Watch out for yourself and your buddy. Cut a fence if it is in your way. Knock down a smoldering fence post that is inviting a breeze to carry sparks afar. Stomp out the last of a smoking sagebrush that refuses to give up.
One firefighter from Crook mentioned the Marines could win a war on four hours of sleep a night. He said, “Hell, the Camp Crook firefighters are lucky to get four hours a week!”
And it takes more than the men and women in the trucks and on the fire line. It takes the lady from the bar bringing sandwiches and coffee and cold water. It takes the 80-year-old lady, who had seen these fires fought for decades, and calls up and says she is bringing supper over for 40 firefighters. It takes the neighbor, who calls up a firefighter and says, “Don’t worry about your chores. We’ll do ’em till you get back.”
It takes the neighbor who sits up on the hill and fights to keep his eyes open when the forecast calls for wind or lightning.
These are tough times. Thousands of acres have been burned and ravaged by drought and fires. Thousands of cattle have had to go to market. Thousands of miles have been driven chasing after scant hay.
But thousands of neighbors have lifted their head up every day and saw to it that their neighbor made it until tomorrow.
Thank you for being there!