By now, I’m sure most of you who are reading this know about the devastating wildfire that nearly wiped out the small southwestern North Dakota town of Bucyrus on Oct. 17. The fire, which displaced 27 people in the tiny community, became national news and was found in many newspapers and on a number of national websites like the Huffington Post, Yahoo!, The Weather Channel and many more.
Remarkably, no people or animals were injured in the blaze. That’s the good news. The bad news is that four occupied homes were destroyed — burned completely to the ground. It’s one thing to read about a story like that, but it’s quite another to be in the middle of such a disaster. Granted, this wasn’t a war zone and, thankfully, nobody paid the ultimate price in the Bucyrus fire, but a number of people lost everything they had. We’re talking everything and that’s incredibly sad.
Linda Wiskus was returning home from work at about 5 p.m. that fateful day — a day that had been not unlike any regular Wednesday — when she was told she had a few minutes to get what she could gather out of her home before she needed to evacuate. Aided by nearly 70 mph winds, a fire was raging out of control nearby and Linda’s house was in its direct path. Linda grabbed a safe with some important documents inside and grabbed a pair of jeans and some socks. She didn’t have time for anything else, didn’t even have time to unload the groceries from her car.
Later, Linda lamented about the fact that she wasn’t able to retrieve some of the items that had been passed down in her family over the years. How, though, was she to know that her home would literally burn to the ground in a matter of a few hours? What would you take if you had five minutes to get anything you could out of your home? How would someone process that information when a few minutes earlier, they were thinking about what to make for dinner?
Thanks to the graciousness of the good folks over at the Bowman County Sheriff’s Office, I was able to be in the middle of the fire as it swallowed the town whole. Walking around in an environment that could only be described as apocalyptic, I must say that I also gained an even greater appreciation for our firefighters law enforcement personnel. I was there for about 20 minutes taking pictures, dealing with dirt blowing in my face, smoke-obstructed sight lines in every direction, red-hot embers darting about everywhere and extreme heat, the likes of which I had never experienced. Sound uncomfortable? It was, but those firefighters, many of them, were there all afternoon and all night. Some hadn’t seen their families as of mid-afternoon Thursday.
But that’s what firefighters do — they run in when everyone else is running out. So, what will happen with Bucyrus moving forward? As of now, we don’t really know. Right now, it’s time for cleanup…..and healing. To nobody’s surprise, people in the immediate area have stepped to the plate to do what they can to help the fire victims. Not just people in Adams County or Bowman County, though — people from all across the Dakotas and, although I don’t know this as fact, I’m sure people from other parts of the country as well.
Usually saved for metaphorical purposes, the phrase “rise from the ashes” is exactly the task that lies in front of the Bucyrus fire victims. People like Mike and Evelyn Krug, who moved to Bucyrus in 1968. People like Vern and Lucy Milliren (the latter of “Lucy’s Frame Shop” fame) or Linda Wiskus and her son, Justin, or the young family that lost the home they had moved into only a month earlier. No question, this was a terrible event. One that only the most cold-hearted of us would wish on another. But it can also serve as a reminder of some things that are truly invaluable in life — family, friends, neighbors, a sense of community and, yes, some fearless firefighters who face what most of us would run from — and how lucky we are to have them.