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Western Drought and Fires

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In June, 2002, we started posting poetry, prose, and reports about the West's serious drought and deadly fires.  We've preserved the commentary below, with a bit of editing, in the order that items were posted.  We continue to add information as it is received.  

The most recent additions are posted here.


Photo by Linda Dunn

Poet Mike Dunn and his wife Linda of Mesa, Arizona sent this photo, with Mike saying "Been spending some time helping out up in Show Low. It's a sad episode for the folks up north and it's sadder still what brought our forest and ranch lands to this............. Most of these were taken Saturday [June 22, 2002] just prior to the evacuation of Show Low.  There are more of Linda Dunn's photos and words from Mike below.

photo by Rob Daley

When Bucky wrote "The drought and the fires are weighin' heavy on folks now. We posted some information and links to two new poems on the subject in our recent newsletter..." little did we know what was to come.  Following is what was in the newsletter and the poetry, what was posted in the News Since the Last Newsletter section, and information since.

From the June 10, 2002 newsletter:

The drought and fires are pressin' on so many folks right now, and two fine poems just in go right to those subjects. Both these poems are reminders that Cowboy Poetry is a livin' art that tells the stories of ranchin' life, and can be as current as the news at 11.  And in some cases, it can give folks a way to deal with the day's news.

  Lariat Laureate runner up Jane Morton told us "This is a bad year for fires in Colorado.  The whole state is dry.  We have had almost no moisture this entire year. We had a fire at the ranch on April 18.  My brother called to tell me and we all met there to take a look at the damage. I couldn't talk about it for a while, because I felt so bad. Finally, as I wrote this poem, I was able to come to terms with my feelings, but it still hurts."  Jane added last week, "We have about three fires burning in Colorado right now. Yesterday's paper commented about farms that had been burned.  They said, 'The loss of a farm is the end of a way of life.'  For us it was also the end of an era." When you read Jane's body of work that lets you get to know her family and their ranch, a poem like this one, The Cottonwoods, touches you as if you were a part of that family and that land, too.

Barbara Bockelman    Laureate runner up Barbara Bockelman raised her family on the same land where her grandparents raised her. Her grandmother, who she writes about in her poetry, would no doubt have done what Badger Clark's mother did.  Barbara wrote to us "The Oklahoma Panhandle is gripped by drought, somewhat a reminder of the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930's. Our prayer is continually for rain for many ranchers and farmers are selling all or parts of their herds. The local sales barns are busy every sales day with huge runs. Wheat fields stand barren.  Yet, we always hope for rain and have faith the rains will come."  Her poem, End of Drought, surely moves folks toward hope.  

From the News Since the Last Newsletter section:


The conditions of course continue to be on the minds of our pards and poets.  Old pard Rose Mary Allmendinger was quoted in the Denver Post on June 10, 2002. 

Left without the green grasslands expected for this time of year and
strapped for hay, Rose Mary Allmendinger already has started selling half of
the 65 prized quarterhorse brood mares on her Hitch Rack Ranch south of
Colorado Springs.

"And if things keep up, we may have to liquidate every one of them," she
said. "It's kind of heart-wrenching."

Allmendinger normally feeds about 40 tons of grass in an entire year, an
amount she already has had to disperse to her animals this spring alone. Her
usual hay supplier brought in 200 bales left over from last year's crop but
didn't promise her any more.

"When he delivered it, he said, "If I have hay, you'll have hay.' That's not
a guarantee."

Old pard Yvonne Hollenbeck wrote from South Dakota "Sounds like the whole country is dry.  We had a couple good spring rains and a half inch the other day so aren't near as bad as others, although we certainly could use rain.  My parents live in the Nebraska. Panhandle and everything is dried up there.  We went to Gillette, Wyoming last week and all the way across Western South Dakota and into Wyoming, it was very dry and no water in the stock dams - which they have to rely on for water.  Thank goodness we have good water wells and don't have to depend on dams, but lots of folks do.  There are lots of cows going to market and not much interest in them. They are mainly going to feedlots and packing plants.  Could be an interesting year. Like my grandma always said:  "From the time you are born, 'till you ride in the hearse; nothing's so bad that it couldn't be worse!"

Then, in a kind of "makin' lemondade" turn for us, Yvonne mentioned that her grandmother Blanche Hanson and her great aunts "wrote poetry about their life in the West. They had a tough one.  I so many times wish she could have had the opportunity that I have to share my poetry and have it published, etc.  A lot of hers was written on the back of a sack, or inside of an envelope that had been opened up.  She had no money for tablets and used whatever she could and wasted nothing."  Yvonne's great-grandfather was Ben Arnold, a "well publicized old-time Dakota Cowhand that came to the State with the Texas trail herds and led quite an adventuresome life as a South Dakota Pioneer."  You can read about a book written about Ben Arnold here.

We are very pleased to be able to share one of Yvonne's grandmother Blanche Hanson's poems with you, Saga of the Dust, written in 1935. Yvonne said about her grandmother and the poem, "They lived on a farm in Northern South Dakota.  On the bottom she wrote: 'I wrote this poem during one of our worst dirt storms when visibility was nill.  It was an unbelievably dark dust storm, exactly like a snow blizzard, only just dirt.'"  Yvonne, echoing her grandmother's saying, says "When you experience a harsh winter, or a South Dakota blizzard, you sometimes think there could be nothing worse.  Then you read the above poem and realize there is always something worse."

Our old pard and Oklahoma dairy farmer Paula Sisk sent us Indian Rain Dance, a poem about her father for our collection of poems about Cowboy Dads and Granddads, but it is also very much about Oklahoma's dry weather.

It put us in mind of two poems already posted at the BAR-D (and included in The Big Roundup), two of the most impressive descriptions of drought we've had the pleasure to know: past Lariat Laureate Jo Lynne Kirkwood's Summer --West Desert Range, a part of her poem that we consider a masterpiece, A Cowboy Season, and Honored Guest Michael Robinson's The End of the Drought

Sixth Lariat Laureate Sam Jackson sent us his fine poem, Fire, sayin' "As someone who aims my pen at many different "Western" subjects, this (latest) drought and it's consequences prompted me to dig out a poem I wrote several years ago on a subject that seems to come current way too often lately.  Although there's not much mention of "cowboys," it takes little imagination to see how it might [pertain to] everyone, especially those in the livestock grazing business." 

paula_and_her_dad_002.jpg (9097 bytes)  Our old pard and Oklahoma dairy farmer Paula Sisk sent us Indian Rain Dance a while back and we mentioned it above.  She was able to drop off this great poem of her and her dad, who inspired that poem.  And we neglected to remember that Paula has another poem about dry times, posted some time back, Dry as a Bone.

Lariat Laureate runner up Janice Mitich told us on June 22 "As you can see from the news we have big forest fires up north.  Almost everyone in Tucson is affected because they own or know someone who lives or owns cabins up there.  On one hand we're praying for the monsoons, but on the other hand, the lightning will start more fires.  Pray for us and all the firefighters."

And she added "The latest on the fire, just in.  The Rodeo Fire is now over 120,000 acres, the Cibecue fire (a lost woman hiker started a fire to signal a news helicopter) is now over 22,000 acres and may have joined up with the Rodeo fire.  Infra-red photos made tonight will give a better picture.  This is the largest ponderosa pine forest in the US.

The Town of Show Low (10,000 residents) plus another 20,000 summer residents and visitors( many of whom left earlier this week) have just been ordered to evacuate north to Holbrook.  The small towns of Pinetop, Lakeside, and Han Dah (a casino on the  Fort Apache Reservation) are on stand-by for evacuation.  The problem is that the gas stations don't have enough gas.

About 10,000 people from Heber, Linden, and Overgaard were evacuated yesterday.  Ten more thousand from Clay Spring, & Pinedale also were evacuated yesterday. So with today's evacuation, that is 50,000.  I don't know how they're getting all the livestock out.  They were housing horses, mules, goats, etc. at the race track in Show Low yesterday, but now they will have to be relocated again.  I know some ranches north east and north of Show Low are serving as shelters.

Jim Paxton, the Forest Service spokesman, said it is now the biggest fire in the country.  At times the fire is moving at 50 MPH.  It is devastating, especially when you think of the loss in habitat, and wildlife.  They will run until they drop.

If the winds shift out of the west, it won't take long for this fire to cover the 60 miles from Show Low to the New Mexico state line.  Hopefully the wind will stay out of the southwest and direct the fire northeastward, where it will eventually leave the pines, get into the juniper, and eventually the high desert areas towards the Petrified Forest.  The fire is now big enough to create it's own weather.

The pictures are incredible.  Looks like flames are 500 feet high.  My niece and her family flew out of Phoenix this morning for Maine.  She said the smoke cloud was huge and terrifying and looked to be 30,000 feet high. Her half-sister and father live in Linden, and we haven't gotten word from them as the phone circuits are tied up.

Anyhow, we need prayers and rain.

Late on June 23, Janice told us: Today the fires had burned almost 300,000 acres, almost 450 square miles. Zero containment. It was moving at about 1 MPH and the fire front is less than 3 miles west of Show Low. Most of the tall pines and homes are on the
west side of town. North, above Pinedale and Claysprings, the fire has moved into grasslands and juniper, but hadn't slowed as much as expected. Approximately. 150 homes/structures have been lost but over 1000 have been saved.

The two fires are within 3/4 miles of linking up together. The entire Sitgraves National Forest has been closed down, the first time in its history. (This is the largest ponderosa pine forest in the whole world, not just the US--my mistake.)

Lariat Laureate runner up Jane Morton and old pard Dick Morton in Colorado are always on our minds. Jane said on June 21 "One day the smoke is better, and then it blows up again.  Either that our a new fire breaks out. The winds have been bad. In fact, we've never seen such constant wind as we have this summer. We stay inside more than we'd like, because it isn't healthy to breathe too much of it. Some places in the mountains aren't burning, but we hate to leave, because a lightning strike could spark a fire in our area and we wouldn't have much time to pack up our things.  We rented a safety deposit for our papers, but of course my writing things wouldn't fit, so I'm trying to more or less keep them together in case we need to get out in a hurry. We'll just keep praying for rain and for the people who've lost everything."

On June 23, Jane tells us "The winds have died down this morning and the firemen seem to gaining some on the Hayman fire.  Things are looking a little more hopeful.  We'll see."

Red is the arch of the nightmare sky,
   Red are the mountains beneath,
Bright where a million red imps leap high,
   Dancing and snapping their teeth.

A keen fight! a clean fight!
   Shoulder your shovels and follow
Up, while they stop in the pines at the top,
   Shooting their sparks in the showers,
Up, with you hats ducking under the smoke of it,
Next to the scorch of it, into the choke of it!
   Fight for the ranch in the hollow,
       Fight! for it is not ours.

                          from Badger Clark's "The Forest Rangers"

Lariat Laureate runner up Rusty Calhoun wrote on June 19: "I've been trying to beat the heat and it's really beaten me, having ridden in like demons on wild horses and set the west on fire!   Lost some of the B-V forest land and some good grazing for our horses in the Bailey, Colorado fire.  Spent many frightening days up there loading stock and getting them clear of the danger.  But, it has forced us,  like others, to sell on the short. All the ranchers I know are looking pretty round eyed right now. With the drought and forest fires in Arizona and the winter kill and forest fires in Colorado I 'm afraid we're in for some tough times.

Got back here to the valley in time to help some friends bring in some of the skinniest, rangey cows I've ever seen. The drought is taking it's toll! This little herd was taken down to fields surrounding the potato packing houses to eat culls for three weeks during harvest.  I was surprised to see them survive and actually fatten up.  A pretty good effort by farmers and ranchers to save a few cattle...but not a significant number by any means. Whole herds are dying around the waterless water holes. Please pray for rain, and lots of it!"

Rusty wrote again on June 23: "My daughter, and members of her Sheriff's Mounted Posse - Search and Rescue Unit were called up last week to assist in the evacuation of Show Low, and Pinetop.  She called me last night ( Sat) and let me know that evacuation of Show Low was complete and the posse was hauling stranded horses to the staging areas.  She went to Pinetop before dawn to assist in the evacuation there - she said it is more tragic than you can even imagine.  Dear old ones refusing to leave their homes - for it is  all they have in this world, lots of lost critters all wild eyed and confused.  But all in all everyone is doing a remarkable job of keeping people safe (sometimes in spite of themselves) while dealing with all the ramifications of this tragedy."

We worried about our pards in Show Low, poet Barb Baker and her husband Jake. We finally heard from Barb on June 25: "Our home is quite safe but we feel so bad for our friends and neighbors. As we evacuated from Show Low Saturday night we drove through ash coming down like snow. Jake drove the big truck with our travel trailer and I
followed in the old 1/2 ton pickup. As I drove I thought of Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath where she said 'All I want is to go somewhere that's green.'"

"A lot of people in our country are pulling for you...They understand that a lot of you are living in tents when you'd rather be in your own beds...They cry for you and they hurt with you and I'm here to say on behalf of the American people, God bless you.''   President Bush in Eagar, Arizona, June 25, 2002

On June 25, 2002, old pard Rose Mary Allmendinger, whose words started this section above, shared her letter to the editor of The New York Times in response to an article there June 23, 2002: 

This article seeks to place blame on the heads of the victims while calling
for increased regulation, to be determined and supervised by more government employees.

It fails to equally belabor two ironic and identical factors of both the Los
Alamos fire in New Mexico and the Hayman fire in CO: (1) both were set by
Forest Service employees; and, (2) in both instances the Forest Service
refused to allow private parties to stop those fires at their onset with the
use of volunteered equipment in the name of "environmentalism."

Common sense in this country has been displaced by a political system and
politically-correct environmental movements that have prohibited reasonable
management of publicly-owned forested land for decades and continue to
handicap, if not promote, the devastation of public and private property.
Demography and nature may have collided in Colorado but there is no excuse
for contributions made by public employees nor environmental regulations
that could have prevented or controlled the damages.

When and if you can identify any public agency that manages anything as
prudently as members of the private sector, then, and only then, should we
consider turning over more control of our private lives and property to
them.  As individuals we are forced to accept accountability for our own
decisions.  Accountability is a word yet to printed in government regulations.

Your selected "quote of the day" by the infamous Babbitt should be replaced
by that one made by Williams, the former Montana congressman:  "The only
thing that burns hotter than a wildfire in the West is the demagoguery of
some politicians trying to take advantage of it."

Rose Mary Allmendinger
Hitch Rack Ranch
Colorado Springs, CO

Lariat Laureate runner up Janice Mitich updated us from Tucson on June 26, 2002. 

Just got through watching the 11 A update on the Rodeo/Chediski (Cha-de-sky) fires.  After nine days the fire is 5% contained--the longest time on record before getting any kind of containment.  The lines have held west of Show Low (Fire is still 1/2 mile away.) and at Highway 60 running north and south from Salt River Canyon and Show Low. Nearly 7000 personnel are on this fire, some working 16 hour shifts.  Last night the fire threw
some hot spots 1/2 mile ahead of the line, but crews were able to get right on them.

Yesterday, an inversion layer helped to slow the fire, so it was a good day. Dry thunderstorm cells are moving through the area today, with high risk of lightning strikes and low chance of rain, although there was a measurable shower last night on the north edge of the fire near Overton which cooled it down. Major power lines in that area are also threatened. The wind is blowing a lot of smoke into Eagar, where a major shelter is
located in the Round Valley High School football dome.  This is where Pres. Bush visited yesterday on his way to Canada.

The fire is approaching 500,000 acres (close to 500 square miles) with $7 million in damages.  All of Bison Ranch (a new development) is gone. I don't know if they got their bison herd to safety or not.  (At the Festival of the West in Scottsdale this past March, Bison Ranch had a gorgeous black, beer wagon, (like the Budweiser one) pulled by black Percherons, there for advertising purposes.)  Close to 400 homes and business have been lost. One large trailer park had only three left standing out of about 90 mobile homes and travel trailers. Fire behavior is so arbitrary and capricious.  One mobile home would be left standing amid acres of ash, twisted metal, and burned vehicles.  TV cameraman even found an open can of paint, with two brushes in in, that had survived.  Some squirrels also had survived, but another fireman said it was sickening to hear the rabbits squealing in their burrows as they died, either by the fire, or from the intense, scalding steam from the water drops.

The White Mountain Apaches are especially hard hit since lumber is a major income for them.  In some areas, full reforestation will take from 200-300 years if at all.  They lost 3 shipments, one of which had been sold.  They have offered $6000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) who started the Rodeo fire.

Last night, Debra Brimhall, the State Representative from District 4 (Show Low) was interviewed. Her grandparents had homesteaded there, and the family still ranches. TV footage showed the remains of her grandparents' log cabin with a corral nearby. He had cut built the cabin himself and even hand-carved the fireplace mantle with his pocket knife.  Debra was really angry, and rightly so.  She said that she wanted...every environmentalist to see what they had done, "..to see the ash tray that they had made of this forest.." while trying to save the spotted owl.  She didn't yet know if her house was still standing or not.  Some home owners will be able to tour their areas in buses, but will not be allowed to leave the vehicles. Asbestos had to be cleaned up in some areas, gas and electric lines made safe, and unsafe trees cut before they will be allowed to go in on foot. Some of these people are going to be dislocated for weeks before they can get back into the homes that are still standing.

Areas that had been previously burned or had prescribed burns were helping to hold the fire at bay and in fact, had created islands of green within the black.  Where the forest is dense, it has the bit in its teeth and is a run-away--even in areas that are fairly open, with low grass, and scattered juniper and pinon. At times in the beginning, the fire went from 5 acres to 5000 acres in less than 9 hours, with flames just north of the fire's origin reaching 1000-1500 feet high. This area was so hot that the retardant (slurry) couldn't even stick to the plants.

Our family still doesn't know about their homes, but they are in an area where the fire hasn't been too bad, yet.

Janice added late June 26:

Apparently there were some figures in error.  The 10PM update just now, said fire at 406,000 acres not 500,000 and fire personnel at a little over 3600. I don't know why the two different figures. 

Tonight, the fire hasn't moved any closer to Show Low, remaining stalled at 1/2 mile, and there is talk of folks being able to come back in in 3-4 days if the fire stays calmer.  However, natural gas can't be turned back on, until people are in their home.  Technicians have to check each meter, then relight all pilot lights and check all gas appliances for damage.  This will take several days.  A movie theatre in Show Low has opened up for firefighters, serving free popcorn and drinks.  The owner said he will get
any movie the fighters want.  After working 16 hr shifts, they need some relaxing down time.

Today was a good day.  Even though dry thunderstorms came through and there were numerous lightning strikes, no new fires were ignited.  The financial loss, in just three subdivisions, including 30 homes in Bison Ranch stood at almost $10 million.  One subdivision of 9 homes was valued at $2.3 million.  We're talking serious houses/cabins here.

A sign that things are easing is that the 10 pm news conference was aired only 15 minutes by 2 of the 3 networks.  ABC continued to give a 1 hr report.

An unprecedented event took place this evening.  The White Mt. Apache tribe (13,000 members) allowed an ABC television camera to film a very sacred rain prayer ceremony which started at sunset today (June 26) and will continue for 4 days.  They have never ever allowed movie, still, or tv cameras before.  The reporter and cameraman were blessed with paint before being allowed to film.  An elder said that the filming was being allowed because this fire is so catastrophic to the tribe and the Earth.  They ask
that all peoples join in the prayer for rain and healing of the Earth.

Lariat Laureate runner up Hal Swift recommends the National Interagency Fire News site in Boise for fire information.

Poet Mike Dunn sent photos taken by his wife Linda and wrote on June 27: Been spending some time helping out up in Show Low. It's a sad episode for the folks up north and it's sadder still what brought our forest and ranch lands to this.............  Most of these were taken Saturday, just prior to the evacuation of Show Low.

Photos by Linda Dunn

When we asked Mike for permission to use the photos and share his words, he added: My wife Linda took the bulk of them.  She and I serve with the Community Services Mounted Sheriff's Posse from Maricopa County (we left the horses home for this one).
I can't tell you much more about the fire then what you're hearing in the media, they're getting the same briefings that we are.  I can say that there are a lot of fine folks in Show Low and the outlying areas, they're working around the clock to get things done.  Of course for the law enforcement and firefighter, ya can't say enough good about them.  There are also the folks standing by, keeping the town services going to the last minute, when they too will have to leave if the fire comes over the ridge.  There's the folks that keep everyone fed, which is no little task in itself..  I understand that it's a coordinated effort by the different churches in the area Church and State are a little closer today and no one seems to mind.  All in all, this tragedy has done nothing less than prove to the world how the western folks in these little towns pull together.  I'm proud of them and honored they've allowed me to stand with them.

Our friend Bobby Newton, the Executive Director of the Academy of Western Artists mentioned that our friend and poet Donna Hatton had sent him information for his Rope Burns publication about the fires near her home in Woodland Park, Colorado home.  We asked Donna to share her words, and she sent us the following articles.  The first assure people that the Pikes Peak Legacy of the West Festival will definitely go on, and how important it is that it does. The others include her eloquent and moving descriptions about the area fires' effect on the animals, people, and the community -- and about the fires elsewhere.


The state of Colorado has suffered with the fires of the last few weeks, but we are not giving in or giving up.  Our small hometown of Woodland Park, gathered her people around her, and tied a knot in the Devil's tail, holding on with teeth bared and feet firmly planted on the North face of Pikes Peak.

Our western festival still stands on the date of September 20-22!  We feel the need to celebrate our Western Heritage as a necessary and proper way to express our thankfulness and to show the Cowboy way to pull together in a time of peril and to help those who have lost homes, family or friends. 

We will be celebrating life, sharing our western music, cowboy poetry and history in the spirit of the old and new west as we honor the heroes of our nation and our state.  Georgia State balladeer, Doc Stovall, and Georgia State cowboy poet Jerry Warren, Oklahoma's Debra Coppinger Hill, Curly Musgrave from California, Arizona's Rick Felix, Oregon's Janet Bailey, Utah's Steve and Terri Taylor, Maggie Mae Sharp, Gary Knighting, Larry Glenn and Donna Hatton from Colorado and Kamloops, B.C.'s own cowboy poet, Mike Puhallo and a host of others are coming to sing, recite, reenact and entertain as we
pick up the threads of our lives and move on.

You are invited to come and help us to show the world what America is made of when her people stare adversity in the face, as she remembers 9-11 and reaches out to the victims of tragedies close to home.

For more information call 719 687-2300 or e-mail 

Dear Friends,

This is just an update of our festival and plans here in Colorado.  I have also sent a thank you and info piece for what has been happening here with our fires.  I have photos of the animals we helped to rescue if you are interested.  Some of the animals, from horses to emus, were housed at the Bergstrom Rodeo Arena, in downtown Woodland Park, and at private homes and ranches, until the town also was put on standby evacuation notice, and they were then moved to a number of different locations near Colorado Springs.  Over 130 homes were lost and more than 400 other structures were burned.  I know of, at least, 23 head of cattle lost and there is no way of knowing the
loss of wildlife. Our High School was an evacuation center for numbers of evacuees and the parking lot was full of RVs of those displaced by the fires.  These past few weeks have affected everyone.

Colorado, as well as Arizona, are disaster areas.  We have been suffering through a drought, no grass, no water and now with the fires we are staring at the loss of our livelihood and way of life.

The evacuation notice is lifted, but we know that the long range effects of this drought and the fires will continue to have an adverse impact on our economy.  Our festival is a way to give hope and also to tell everyone that we are still here.  The Pikes Peak Legacy of the West is about our country standing proud and tall.  It is about our Heritage and about our majestic Pikes Peak, which was the inspiration for the poem that became the beloved song, America the Beautiful.

Keep us in your prayers as we try to plan what we will do in the days ahead.

Donna Hatton
Treasurer CRWHA


The birds quit singing and silence, loud and frightening, awoke me from a restless sleep.  I peered out the bedroom window at a gray world and smelled air, sour with smoke that burned my eyes and throat.  The Hayman fire was moving and the tensions in the air was palpable as sounds filtered through the gloom and people started packing their cars and readied themselves to leave.  Neighbors called on each other to share news and to watch each others property and try to stop the feeling of panic that seemed to infect our town and county as the days of  a standby order for evacuation continued.

The week that the fire began, we started helping to move horses and other livestock out of the fires path.  We saw families leave their homes and at times leave their animals with just the promise from the rescuers that we would get them out.  Local ranches, backyard corrals, rodeo arenas, private indoor arenas were all offered for the rescued animals.  People with horse trailers turned out by the dozens to come to the aide of the displaced families and their animals and pets.

Firefighters from across the West came to stand side by side with the local firefighters and volunteers. They were the heroes who saved our homes and continued to work the firelines to contain the giant that threatened to run us over.  We watched the slurry bombers, on run after run, and helicopters with their buckets swinging over the fires, as the flames leapt from the crowns of trees racing onward in their journey to the sky.  We wept for the ones killed in California in a plane crash and for those firefighters killed in a car accident on their way from Oregon to fight the Hayman fire.

I stood on my deck as the ashes drifted down and realized, that even being 6 miles from the fire was not far enough to be completely safe.  When it is all over it will be some time before the smell of a campfire will hold any romance for me.

It will never be the same here and for some, there will not be a homecoming.  But, I will never forget the outpouring of concern, the offers of help, the faces of young firefighters or the little girls who were lovingly caressing horses at the rodeo arena in Woodland Park, where animals were brought for safety.  I asked them if those were their horses and they replied, "Oh no, we just don't want them to feel lonely and scared without their families."


Summer had not yet officially begun, but our experiences of these past weeks are those we don't care to repeat.  As the horrific days of fear and uncertainty continued we have watched homes and forest disappear, while wildfires devoured whatever stood in it's path.

A standby order of possible evacuation left us all in shock, as the great plumes of smoke rose ever higher in the sky and we were told to gather our important papers and any other irreplaceable mementos of our lives.  I wondered what of all the many memories of the thirty-two years spent in this house, my home, to keep.  I walked into my daughter's room and memorabilia of her life stared me in the face, and I cried for what I may have to leave behind.

Staying busy and helping others to remove their belongings and animals to safer locations, has given us the space we need to remain calm.  Our friends have called and offers of sanctuary have sustained us and given us a rare glimpse into the goodness that is so often overlooked in favor of the more sensational misdeeds in our society.  There are angels watching over us and we have certainly met some as they have fought our fires and saved our homes.

The evacuation standby order was lifted tonight, June 24.  We are grateful to be released from that weight, but we must be mindful that the fire is just contained and not out.  Arizona is also in the grip of an even greater inferno and many of the fire crews who have been here will be sent there to help.  Our prayers are with our neighbors in that state and with those men and women who are there on the fire lines tonight.
Thank you for you concerns for us.  Please know that we send our prayers for the safety of you families, homes and the fire crews.  Please accept our offers for what help we can be.

Tom and Donna Hatton
CRWHA treasurer and board members.

Old pard Rose Mary Allmendinger sent us the link to this national fire map on June 30, 2002, which shows the concentration of fires in Colorado.

Rose Mary also sent us an article reporting "For the first time in 53 years, the Pikes Peak Range Riders will not saddle up and circle the famous mountain on horseback to promote the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo."

The ride's president is quoted as saying ""It's just so dry up in the high country," Black said Friday. "Our tradition just wasn't worth the risk to the public lands and people of Colorado."

Another rider says "It just wouldn't be fair when most people can't even hike in the forest...We don't want special privileges."

The article states that "The Range Riders tradition began in 1949 when Everett Conover and Ken Brookhart, on a morning horseback ride through the Austin Bluffs, decided to invite some friends to ride around Pikes Peak as a publicity stunt for the rodeo."

Rancher Randy Myers has a message about the area fires.  Our thanks to Sandra Herl of WorkingCowboy.com for connecting us with Randy:

My name is Randy Myers.  My wife, Brenda and I own the M Lazy C Ranch in
Lake George, Colorado at the town site of Hayman.  That is where the Hayman fire got its name; the fire started a short distance from our back fence. Fortunately the fire has not damaged our ranch or stopped any activity here and you cannot see any burnt trees or any other effects of the fire from the ranch. We have never been evacuated here at the M Lazy C Ranch. However, indirectly the fires and media coverage has had a drastic effect at the M Lazy C Ranch.  Recent media coverage of the Hayman fire has led to some false beliefs as to the current situation in Colorado and Lake George.

We are a working cattle ranch that invites our guests to participate in
daily activities.  The drought has forced us to sell many of our cows. The M
Lazy C Ranch is located in a rural area and was already struggling with
drought-like conditions.   Usually the summer months are the busiest months
of the year for the ranch.  The fire has slowed our business to a trickle.
The media coverage has led to the public to panic and cancel reservations.
Our business certainly has not been the only business in this area to be
affected in a similar manner.  Over exposure of the fire in the media has
been detrimental to local economy from ranching, restaurants and other local
tourist attractions.

We need your help to let people know that they can still come to Colorado
and enjoy a safe vacation. Please come out to see for yourselves that all of
Colorado is not burning, in fact some of us are quite alive but we need your
help in reassuring the public that Lake George is a safe place to visit.

Problems like this are only solution waiting to become Opportunities.
If you have an idea or think you could help let us know

Our prayers are with those who have lost their homes or been evacuated.

Call 719-748-3398 or email mlazyc@aol.com, web:
M Lazy C Ranch

Randy Myers
M Lazy C Ranch
PO Box 461
Lake George, CO. 80827

Most recent postings:

In early fall, 2002, Special Western Music guest Kerry Grombacher shared his Who Set This Fire?, which he has performed for audiences across the fire-ravaged West.  Read more about Kerry (and another fire-related lyric) on his page here at the BAR-D:


Who Set This Fire?

I'm Standing at the grave of Smokey the Bear, patron saint of Capitan
A firefighter on a pilgrimage from the Malheur Forest of Oregon
Haze yellowed a sky of New Mexico blue, I tasted smoke in the back of my throat
Pictured Arizona and Colorado fires, Sat down on a bench and then I wrote

            Who set this fire? Who set this fire?
            Spreading like a cancer across our land
            The inferno leaps from an evil hand
            A heart of stone, a soul that's damned
            Who set this fire?

There's a splendid violence when the fire crowns and smoke roils high as thunderclouds
But you don't see it from the line, Pulaski in hand, 'cause your back is bent and your
      head is bowed
You're digging like you're praying for a miracle but the miracle is rain that never fell
So you just hope that the fool who lit the match spends eternity in the flames of hell

            Who set this fire? Who set this fire?
            Spreading like a cancer across our land
            The inferno leaps from an evil hand
            A heart of stone, a soul that's damned
            Who set this fire?


            Back in 1950 when the Lincoln burned
            They found an orphaned cub with scorched black hands
            Now after all these years of Smokey the Bear
            What part of "Only you" don't you understand?

We build monuments to the ones we've lost, caught in the line of fire
But we never expected that one of our own would carry the torch to the funeral pyre
It's the driest summer, the worst fire season in over a hundred years
There's not a drop of rain falling across the west, we're just soaking the ground with our
     smoky tears

            Who set this fire? Who set this fire?
            Spreading like a cancer across our land
            The inferno leaps from an evil hand
            A heart of stone, a soul that's damned
            Who set this fire?

I'm standing at the grave of Smokey the Bear
Asking "Who set this fire?"

1996 Kerry Grombacher (Ring of Fire Music - BMI)

  Lariat Laureate runner up Hal Swift wrote: 

Friday, 25 October 2002.  The United States Department of Agriculture has declared all seventeen counties of Nevada a drought disaster area. Congressman Jim Gibbons (R-Reno) says farmers and ranchers who can show a physical or production loss now will be able to apply for low-interest, emergency loans from the USDA's Farm Service Agency.  Lake Mead, just east of Las Vegas in southern Nevada, is reported at only two-thirds capacity. Lake Tahoe, in northern Nevada, is just three inches away from the water level dropping below its spillways.  Lake Tahoe feeds the Truckee River which, in turn, provides water for all of the Reno area and much of Washoe
County.  The announcement quotes the National Climatic Data Center as saying
the summer just past is Nevada's driest on record.


In early August, 2002, poet Yvonne Hollenbeck who lives on the dry plains of South Central South Dakota wrote:

My husband Glen had to take a horse to O'Neill, Nebraska, yesterday.  O'Neill is about 3 hours away.  I stayed home as it was so hot and windy and of course, DRY. Right after he left it clouded up and of course, all we got was lightning. Pretty soon the phone rang and the neighbors had a fire, so I jumped in our fire rig and away I went.  I got home last night and smelled awful so got cleaned up and did I ever sleep.  I had let a neighborman drive our rig, and another feller ran the sprayer, and I did the wet-gunny sack job.  I can sure see why those old pioneer ladies used cow-chips in the cook stove. They sure burn a long time.  There were quite a few fires around.  The fire department from Winner, SD, came out and while there got two more calls, so had to send a couple trucks back.  It burned about 40 acres and a dozen or so precious big hay bales (those hard far and few between this year).

In early August, poet Rose Mary Allmendinger reported on the desperate conditions at her Colorado ranch, dug deeply, and found something positive to say:

The Old Barn ..... wood ...

I'm forwarding this story to you,
Sent from a Friend, to read.
Perhaps for you, as was for me ...
A fertile, planted seed.

For now I sit and look upon
The soil parched and cracked.
That soil that has died of thirst
From all the rain it's lacked.

It's hard to think of times like these,
So dry they crinkle skin,
As weathering the wood of Life
With scorching sun we're in.

It's easy when the meadow's lush,
The grass is growing green,
To look around at paradise,
To smile at all that's seen.

We build our Barns with loving care;
Four coats of paint applied.
As time goes by, the paint wears out;
We think our Barn has died.

We sometimes notice with each day
When Barn begins to lean.
But seldom do we comprehend
The beauty this might mean.

Shortsighted views will see our pastures
Turning into dust.
Shortsighted cravings for the grass
Is that for which we lust.

Towering pines four-stories high,
Pines needles turning brown,
May build a Barn, replace the old,
When drought now brings them down.

If only we could have foresight,
Ignore what drought now seems,
Perhaps we'd line our walls of Life
With Barn wood under beams.

But if you ARE the Barn that's leaning,
Turning silver gray,
It's hard to think in terms of beauty
Building every day.

For those whose sap is sinking fast,
Hard weather taking tolls,
Perhaps this message sent, below,
Can help us form new goals.

Just think of soil, parched and barren,
As barn wood in the sun.
Perhaps we'll recognize that message
When these days are done.

... a musing from the West 
  2002, Rose Mary Allmendinger

The Old Barn

A stranger came by the other day with an offer that set me to thinking. He wanted to buy the old barn that sits out by the highway. I told him right off he was crazy. He was a city type, you could tell by his clothes, his car, his hands, and the way he talked. He said he was driving by and saw that beautiful barn sitting out in the tall grass and wanted to know if it was for sale. I told him he had a funny idea of beauty.

Sure, it was a handsome building in its day. But then, there's been a lot of winters pass with their snow and ice and howling wind. The summer sun's beat down on that old barn till all the paint's gone, and the wood has turned silver gray. Now the old building leans a good deal, looking kind of tired. Yet, that fellow called it beautiful.

That set me to thinking. I walked out to the field and just stood there, gazing at that old barn. The stranger said he planned to use the lumber to line the walls of his den in a new country home he's building down the road. He said you couldn't get paint that beautiful. Only years of standing in the weather, bearing the storms and scorching sun, only that can produce beautiful barn wood.

It came to me then. We're a lot like that, you and I. 

Only it's on the inside that the beauty grows with us. Sure we turn silver gray too... and lean a bit more than we did when we were young and full of sap. But the Good Lord knows what He's doing. And as the years pass He's busy using the hard weather of our lives, the dry spells and the stormy seasons, to do a job of beautifying in our souls that nothing else can produce. And to think how often folks holler because they want life easy!

They took the old barn down today and hauled it away to beautify a rich man's house. And I reckon someday you and I'll be hauled off to Heaven to take on whatever chores the Good Lord has for us on the Great Sky Ranch. And I suspect we'll be more beautiful then for the seasons we've been through here... and maybe even add a bit of beauty to our Father's house.

The storms of our life prove the strength of our anchor.

Later Rose Mary wrote: No rain here and unfortunately no good news to report.  Trying hard to liquidate almost all of my horses (75 head) and it is a gut-wrenching experience I can tell you for sure.  Been almost 30 years in the puttin'-together and to have to dismantle under poor market circumstances and loose those labors-of-Love is not an easy thing to do. And she enclosed, as she often does, a message in rhyme:

But such is Life ...
Full of strife ...
Must look now to tomorrow.
For cryin' tears
In all yer beers
Don't 'liminate the sorrow.
Just makes a mess
Of snot and stress ...
A nasty combination!!!
So now must Hope,
With greater scope,
There'll be a celebration.
For I may live ...
If Good Lord gives ...
The time to see it RAIN!
Just hope it's HERE ...
This ranch so dear ...
Not on the Spanish plain!
No feelin's hard
Against the bard
That lives on distance shore.
But selfish me
Would like to see
It rain right HERE some more!!!
Until that "wet"
Comes here to set ....
Got just the one! ...
Increase your fun! ...
"Such a deal", of course!!!
Ya wanna bay?
Or maybe gray?
Got one of every kind!
So take your pick ...
But do it quick ...
Before I loose my mind!!!
I'm packin' bales,
Slower 'n snails,
Back breakin' in the sun.
So let me know ...
Want one to show?
Or fastest one to run?
Don't want to buy?
That'd make me cry!!!
Whasa-matta with ya boy?
"Such a deal" ...
Such a steal!!! ...
They sure can bring ya JOY!!!
Well, off I go ...
A bit too slow ...
But chores I must do.
Best wishes sent ...
And truly meant ...
Especially for you!!!

When we commented on her positive spirit, she warned us that it was an effort. She said "This dadgumed drought is fertile soil for the worst in all of us, you know! If you have ever tried to draaaaaag a 1700# *round* bale of Kansas hay behind a pickup with twine on it so skinny it pops with every pull and turns into nothin' more that a gigantic roll of cotton candy (without the "sugar-fix" for inspiration!!!) ... eruptin' out of the tow-strap which has to be reattached ... only to have it pull off ONE MORE TIME ... and then one more time AGAIN!!! ... you would certainly understand the temptation to pave a HIGHWAY to The Land of Flames and Fire with a tongue on the loose!!!"

Rose Mary said that her grandchildren help her keep a stiff upper lip and keep her language in check.







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