There’s two things Ray Rinta stands in awe of, after a raging grass fire leapt a ditch in his back yard the evening of July 2, and started burning its way through his hay field toward his home in Cedar: the seemingly unstoppable power of a runaway wildfire; and the rallying of his community – including forestry service fire fighters, local fire departments, and volunteer citizens – to stop the seemingly unstoppable.
When he reported the fire at about 5 p.m. he was told others had already called it in, and that crews were on their way. But when Armageddon is unfolding in your back yard, seconds seem like minutes; minutes, hours.
“It took forever,” he said. “Of course when you want things to happen, they don’t happen as quick as you’d like, but we could see the flames getting higher and higher, and moving fast, and the wind picked up and man it was travelling.”
One of a dozen or so homeowners to be evacuated during the incident, Rinta was roused from a snooze on the sofa after a family outing. He awakened to a very bad dream.
“We had visions of this taking off and sparks shooting up to the house,” he said, hours after returning to his property when the evacuation notice was lifted next day. “They were talking about bringing two big tanker trucks in to spray down the house.”
It didn’t come to that, but Rinta has been left with an impression of just how vulnerable communities in the path of a wildfire are, and how unpredictable a wildfire can be.
“I thought everything was under control,” he said, surveying the charred fields from his back yard. “I was rolling up that hose right there, when there was a police officer standing there and he said ‘You’ve got to evacuate.’,” Rinta recounted.
He, his wife and two grandchildren didn’t have to make use of Ladysmith’s Emergency Social Services Centre, which was activated during the incident – they stayed with family – but he was amazed at the responsiveness of the professional fire fighters and his community, battling the blaze.
From the air a water bomber swooped in to drop thousands of litres of red fire-retardant in the path of the fire. Then helicopters scooped water out of a nearby pond to continue the air battle. Fire crews from throughout the region tackled the blaze on the ground. Assisting was a nearby dairy farmer, who topped up his manure spreader with water to douse the scorched field and prevent the fire flaring up again. He was joined by drivers from Bedrock Redi-Mix, who filled the drums on the backs of their trucks with water and also doused the still smoking ground.
A 20 year resident of the area, Rinta said he’s never seen anything like this before. “The last two months have been so darned dry and everybody’s aware of what’s going on,” he said. “But to have this happen in your back yard really shakes you up. You can see it was coming to consume us. It didn’t make it.”
Thanks, he says, to the great response from his community and the professionals who stand ready to deal with disasters in the making.