taught difficult lessons on frontier by
all the forces of nature and man, fire is the most feared if it's out of control.|
In an instant a fire can kill, maim, destroy or devour whatever is in its path.
Since the beginning of man, he has used fire to warm his hearth, cook food, clean
his meadow lands and forests, or deter his enemies.
Just like a hammer
or saw, man uses fire as a tool to help him exist. Yet that same tool, out of
control, can destroy his health, hurt his family, render his fields and crops
worthless, and scorch the very earth where he lives.
In early America
fires were commonplace, constant and catastrophic. Every dwelling place or business
was heated by wood stoves and fireplaces. Building materials for chimneys were
often inferior or deteriorated, causing fire hazards. Though economical, metal
stove pipes soon rusted or burned out if not replaced.
During the long
hard winters, large fires built in stoves created sparks that ignited grass fires,
rooftops and nearby wooden walls.
Time and again, entire towns were burned
to the ground from fire pushed by high winds. Many small, wooden schoolhouses
in the Texas Panhandle were burned.
Francisco suffered many fires in its early days until business owners began building
with brick. They often advertised their building was fireproof and safe to enter
for doing business. This was especially true of banks and Wells Fargo offices
that stored money and gold.
Until a town became large and prosperous enough
to support a volunteer fire department, wooden whiskey barrels were often kept
under roof down-spouts to catch dew and rainwater where buckets could be filled
to throw onto fires.
One man invented a metal bucket with a cone-shaped
bottom, so the bucket could not be set down without spilling. This prevented theft
of a valuable fire-fighting tool for domestic purposes.
Many fires were
set by lightning strikes, giving birth to lightning rods being installed on the
roofs of buildings. Some believed it sent electrical strikes to the ground while
others believed the rods merely drew more lightning.
Do you remember the
little glass globes of liquid hanging on wall brackets? If fire was seen, you
merely tossed the globe onto the fire. When it broke, it choked out the blaze
immediately. We kept them for years and as far as I know never tossed a one except
the one my brother and I stole to test. Strangely enough, I can't remember the
I heard a story of two brothers who once used a foam-type fire
extinguisher in an effort to remove a skunk from a dirt cellar where canned goods
were stored. They said that was the maddest, wettest, "stinkingest" skunk in the
West when it finally departed the cellar.
The foamy chemical mixed with
the skunk odor to create a permanent stench that was unbearable. The cellar was
finally abandoned and filled in with dirt.
July 20, 2010 Column
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164,
by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.