I CAN SEE IT NOW
“I can see it now.” She said over the phone. “There’s a fire on the next ridgetop over. It seems to be centered at John Wilson's ranch. We’ll have to hurry to get the animals out.” Sarah was always worried about the animals.
As a park ranger assigned to the fire lookout tower, she took her job very seriously. She spent hours looking out over the trees through her binoculars and fortunately hadn’t seen many fires. This could be a big one if they didn’t get there fast enough.
The other ranger arrived to relieve her so she could go help with the animal control. Sarah knew animals and helped to calm them in situations like this. You could say she was an animal whisperer.
One of the firetrucks came by to pick her up. They had notified the area ranchers, who were on their way up to help load the horses. Fortunately, there were only a few.
They met up to access the fire. So far it was only the barn on fire. Hurrying in to get whatever animals were in there, they came across a small dog with a litter of puppies, too young to walk on their own. The mother was overcome by the smoke, but the puppies seemed to be alright. Sarah quickly grabbed up the mother dog and began the process of rescue breathing into her muzzle. She soon came around and was wiggling to get down, but Sarah held tight to her as the puppies were carried out by the firemen who had come with her. There didn’t seem to be any other animals in the barn. All the horses must have been out to pasture, which would mean a roundup. Most of the ranchers had already arrived, and were busy doing just that.
“Where's Calvin?” asked one of the ranchers. He was the only rancher who didn't show up.
“I don't know!” answered the fire chief. “He didn't answer his phone.”
Firetrucks were hosing down the barn and checking the brush nearby. Some of the flames had gotten into the trees and were spreading down the slope. A call went out for more help.
Sarah got the dogs to a safe place and went to help the ranchers who were having trouble corralling the horses. And they would need to get them loaded soon since the fire was spreading and would surely close off the only exit. She headed toward the pasture. The ranchers had them all at the far end, but were having trouble getting them in to the waiting trailers. Going up to calm the horses, she tripped and nearly fell on the lead horse, but caught herself on the fence instead. Sarah might not be graceful, but she was good with the horses. Speaking softly to the lead mare and gently reaching for her bridle, the horse calmed down and walked into the trailer without incident. Sarah followed suit with the others. It took awhile, but they were all in trailers, and ready for the long haul down the mountain to safety.
The road was muddy from the water being sprayed out by the firetrucks. It was slow going as the trailers slid in the mud. About a quarter of a mile down the road, the fire was nearing the edge of the road. The first truck and trailer made its way past the burning brush and then the second truck and trailer went. The horses were in a panic and nearly tipped the trailer of the second one, so the others stopped while the firemen tried to get the fire under control. Beating back the flames so the third truck could make it past. However, a big tree that was burning brightly fell across the road making it impossible for the last two trucks to pass. They would have to wait where they were and hope the fire didn’t overtake them.
Firefighters worked feverishly, getting the fire laden tree under control, all while trying to cut it into workable sized pieces. It was the only way they could move it out of the road. And finally, they had enough of the tree cut and moved from about half of the road so a truck might be able to pass, but the fire was roaring out of control now and it would take some time until the last two trucks could pass through.
The fire raged on. Firefighters were working from both sides of the flames. Someone came with a bulldozer to assist with a fire line so they might stop, or at least slow down the spread of the fire. That seemed to work. But the road was still mostly impassable. The remaining horses were starting to panic as the smell of smoke engulfed them. Sarah stood by the trailers and sang softly until the horses calmed a bit. She reached through the windows to give them a reassuring touch and that seemed to help, too! The bulldozer pushed the rest of the cut bits of burning tree to the side of the road. Clearing a path for the forth and fifth trucks to haul the trailered horses on down the mountain where they met up with the other three ranchers. It was decided that they would take the horses to their own ranches where they would be safe and cared for until John Wilson could be found. Nobody seemed to know where he was. He didn’t seem to be at the ranch when the fire broke out. Sarah called her friend and co-worker up in the tower to see if he knew anything. He said he would check and see what he could find out. When he got back to her, he said “a fireman found Mr. Wilson in his house, passed out with a big bump on his head. Apparently this fire was set by someone. The same someone that hit him over the head. Paramedics were on site and able to rouse him.” Everyone was glad he was okay and that whoever did it, didn’t torch the house, too.
“Did he know who hit him?” asked one of the ranchers.
“Yes,” said Sarah. “They are looking for him now.”
“Who was it?” asked the rancher.
“I am not at liberty to say.” Sarah new she could not say anything more or it might blow the case.
She said nothing else as she walked away to where the puppies and their mom were.
The fire chief came over to talk to Sarah. “How many horses did you rescue?” he asked.
“Sixteen all together. Why?”
“There’s one missing then. The fellow who set the fire must have taken him.”
“Him? All we have are mares.”
“Yes! He is a stallion worth a pretty penny so says Mr. Wilson. He just got him at the auction house. I guess there was another bidder, not to happy about losing out. We’re pretty sure that Calvin was the other competitor. He told one of the other ranchers that he was going to get that stallion no matter what, because he needed an investment animal to increase the value of his herd.”
“But why did he burn John’s barn?” Sarah asked.
“We're pretty sure it was an accident. He must have knocked over the oil lamp when he got the stallion out of the stall. Anyway, he won't be too hard to find.”
The fire chief received a call. The fire had jumped the fire line and was headed their way. “OK, it's time to go,” he yelled out to the ranchers. “Fire's coming this way.” And everyone returned to their trucks and headed out, towards home. Sarah rode with Jim, one of the other ranchers. He lived in the valley, far away from the fire. The horses would be safe there.
The mother dog and her puppies were taken to the house, where Jim’s wife, Anna, and kids would eagerly watch after them. She was a veterinarian, which worked out well according to Jim. He knew Anna would give the mother and puppies a thorough check up. And then Jim and Sarah left, to return to the fire line.
When they arrived, they were met by the fire chief. “The fire is ninety percent contained,” he told them. “It's a good thing we had the bulldozer. It was a big help." But that meant there was still ten percent to go. They worked their way up the hill to where there were some emergency vehicles parked. Maybe there was something they could do to help. Jim donned a fireman’s jacket and helmet, and headed up to the fire line.
Jim and Sarah had brought several cases of bottled water, some on ice to give the exhausted firefighters. Sarah went to work giving out water to those who were resting, before going back up on the line.
Sometime later, in the late afternoon, the fire chief came over to let her know the fire was at long last under control. That meant they would be finished soon. “Also,” he said, “they caught up with Calvin. He had the stallion with him and was headed south on Highway 5. What a day!”
At last, they were done. It was near dark. A fire crew would stay behind and look for hot spots. The bad guy was caught and taken to jail, and Mr. Wilson got his horse back.
Jim took Sarah home as it was on his way.
The next morning came, and found Sarah back at work in the tower. Looking through her binoculars, she saw mostly blue sky and green trees. There was only a small patch visible where the fire had been, as it went mainly down the other side of the mountain.
“I can see it now.” Sarah said, as her co-worker pointed at the eagle soaring in the early morning breeze.