When will it ever rain again? That question came up every day. It had been over a month and everything was just about to dry up and blow away.
That was Saturday, June 2 2000 and Lord it was dry. It had not rained since sometime back in March. We were stuck in the middle of yet another drought, one more time. Here in the depths of South Georgia it seemed like we casually drift from one drought to the next. Had God forgotten us? Are we being punished for some unknown or long forgotten sin? Was this my fault? Was there something I needed to confess or quit doing or start doing? The questions were endless and the answers not forthcoming, at least not anytime soon. And of course I was mad with God. Most everybody was, although the vast majority was not brave enough to come right out and say it.
But, it was perfect weather for the wheat harvest. Dry and hot with little or no humidity and the wind blowing like a fan out of the northwest. At that time I had a little sideline business of baling wheat straw. I had a connection that hauled it to the mushroom growers in north Florida. I was just dumping out a full bale when the call came over the volunteer fire dept. radio of a wheat field fire. I knew from the directions given it was most likely one of my fields that luckily had already been harvested. Wheat stubble burns faster and hotter than wheat that has not been cut and a fire can race across 100 acres in less than 5 minutes. It can ignite from something as minute as a spark from any source. Your experience tells you that all you can expect to do, usually, is keep it out of the surrounding area.
When I arrived all my suspicions and speculations were confirmed. It was indeed on some of my land and the fire had consumed every stalk available. It had gotten out into my planted pines and, since fire is no respecter of landlines, and across the field it was headed down a fence line towards the neighbor's wheat that had not been harvested. By then two fire trucks had arrived and one of them wet the ground as far as they could reach down the fence line to put that part out, or so we thought. The other one put out the fire in the planted pines and thinking all was well, we left to go about our everyday lives. But, remember how dry it was?
It happens more often than you might think, and especially when the fuel part of the fire triangle is powder dry. It rekindled and took off again for the neighbor's field. Another call went out and here we go again.
I got there first and started trying to beat it out with what is called a flapper I had previously "requisitioned" from the Georgia Forestry Commission. I carry it with me in the back of my pickup truck. All it consists of is a rubber mat about eighteen inches by eighteen inches attached to the end of what looks like a broom handle. Under normal circumstances you can use it efficiently by slapping it down on the fire and it will smother it out by removing the oxygen. But, like everything else we use there are risks involved. Under powder dry conditions like we were dealing with here it can sometimes push fire out ahead of it. All it takes is the tiniest of sparks to float a few feet ahead and as dry as the leaves were, it starts up again. As a result of this it became obvious I had to do something else and do so with all due haste.
The flapper obviously was not working and the truck with the water, according to my most recent radio conversation, was still about ten minutes away. All right, I have still got plenty of time I kept telling myself. I have got this under control, no need to bother the Lord with this. Evidently as much as we have pleaded and begged for rain lately he is not paying any attention to us anyway, I will just do this myself. It was at that very instant that the wind changed direction pushing the fire in the direction I fervently did not want it to go. Great. But fate was not finished with me yet. While desperately using the flapper, which was just making a bad situation worse, my walkie-talkie radio had gotten caught on a scrub oak bush snatching it off my belt and throwing it? You guessed it, directly into the fire. It took a few seconds of searching the ground before I discovered where it was. It had just enough time to do a pretty good job of melting the antenna off and making a melted plastic mess out of the rest. "Well, this is wonderful, now I have no water, no way putting the fire out, and no way of communicating where I am and what I need. Maybe I do need God to help me." In desperation I got down on my knees and started sweeping out a fire break with my hands, pushing the leaves and grass out in both directions as I crawled along. I started at the edge of the field and was working my way at a right angle in front of the fire. It seemed the farther I got the harder the wind blew and after a few minutes I had turned and was going basically the same direction as the fire just to try and stay ahead of it. Because of the change in wind direction previously mentioned I was now completely surrounded by smoke and wind blown leaves that were burning. I began to realize the futility of what I was trying to do, plus the little minor detail of smoke inhalation, and cautiously started to crawl back out.
As I lay in the relative safety of the cleanly harrowed field I had used as a starting point I prayed, "Dear Lord I have done all I can do. It seems everything I try to do, you throw something at me that works against me. You are the only one with the power to calm the winds and make rain. Lord if you wont help me then I give this all over to you. If its your will that this man's crop burns up then help me to know you have a greater plan and it will all be for the good." A calm peaceful feeling settled over me and I feared I was hallucinating when I heard a familiar voice. It is kind of a strange, out of body experience when one lies in an open field and calmly diagnoses ones own problems and conditions. Then I heard someone calling my number. 120-D3, over and over again. Where is that coming from? Am I still on earth? Surely God would not be calling me by my radio number. And surely a melted radio with no antenna could not and would not be working. I struggled to my knees and found where I had thrown it when I snatched it out of the fire a few minutes earlier. That was indeed where the noise had been coming from. I picked it up and mashed the button on the side, totally astonished that it still worked, and answered. I was able to guide the fire truck driver in from the dirt road to where I was. When he got in sight, and I was fully and finally convinced someone else was there with me I returned to my seat on the bare ground and finally relaxed a little. He put out the fire then directed his attention to the smoldering stumps and fence post that are the usual culprits in any rekindling. I just sat there and watched. I do not think I could have gotten up even if I had wanted to.
But the demonstration of Gods mighty power was still not complete. As an ironic twist of fate, or more likely it was God demonstrating once again what he can do, the instant that the last wisp of smoke went out, the pump on the truck disintegrated. Parts of the impeller came out the end of the hose and another fragment turned crossways in the pump and locked it up. I needed no further convincing or demonstration of the awesome power of God. He had my undivided attention, not to mention gratitude and now my trust. I bummed a ride in the now crippled fire truck back to my truck, went home, and hid under the bed until my wife came home from the inevitable shopping trip and flushed me out.
All the events of the day redirected my thoughts away from the short- term possibility, whether real or imagined, that God had forsaken me or was punishing me. These fun events served to remind me that regardless of whatever trials and tribulations we face in every day life, he is always there, he always cares, and he still performs daily miracles whether we recognize them for what they are, or pass them off as lucky breaks. I had been forced to abandon my feelings of self-pity and realize anew what and who God really is.
Tim White lives in Southwest Georgia. He serves as county Fire Chief for the local volunteer unit, has two books published and writes a weekly column, The Southern Male Perspective. You can order his books online at www.tatepublishing.com
Wife Cathy, children Cristin and Lee grand daughter Anna
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