Yup, granny was an arsonist. It’s as true as the red lettered words of Jesus burned into her 88 year old heart.
The “Great Fire of ’73,” was traced back to Granny Gale and a single sulfur match found tucked inside her worn King James Bible. She was guilty. No doubt. She started the blaze big time and managed to keep it secret to the day she died. Gotta give her props for that!
Her fire burned through homes on both sides of Bowman Road, clear down to where Cottonwood Creek dumps into the Sacramento River, and clear up to where the creek begins at the foot of Mount Shasta. It was so explosive it jumped the river near Redding and singed acreage all the way east to Mount Lassen. The fire’s western front charged and charred its way clear to Eureka on the Pacific coast. People still talk about it with awe.
Evidence confirmed the source of the blaze. Granny’s glorious guilt was sealed by an obvious charcoal stain leading from the hand knit bedroom rug where the Bible was found, to the door, and down the steps where the fire escaped and began its odyssey.
Yup, Granny Gale was an arsonist and had been for years.
Granny’s diary told us about the match and her passion. Her “fire-fighting” began when she was 12 in a revival meeting in the Bowman Community Hall. It says in the diary that Grand Daddy Gale somehow got a burdened heart for his neighbors and hired an evangelist and the Hall to put him in. Signs were posted on trees along the road and at the local market, but when the first night arrived six Gales were the only congregation.
The evangelist preached to his small audience, wooing them to the altar to pray for souls. That night each Gale got a sulfur match as a reminder of their commitment.
And they sang:
O the passion O the wonder
Of the fiery love of Christ
O the wisdom O the wonder
Of the power of the cross*
The meetings ended a week later with only the same six in attendance, but the prayers kept going. Granny was the last of the six still on their knees years later. Her diary reports that all the other Gales were asking Jesus face to face for Bowman Road’s salvation when the fire started.
My granny loved Jesus and her neighbors. So yes, this was definitely her life’s crime. Oh, the many times we saw her get down on her knees, open her Bible, hold that little match to her heart, and beg for the divine fire to fight the fires of Hell...and oh, the man times we grandkids ran from the room. Eventually Heaven must have heard her because that fire did spread. Today I can’t say I’m not proud of her. She didn’t let nothin’ get in the way of her prayer time!
And the damage done by Granny Gale’s fire?
Well, I was singed. My mother, my brother, my neighbors, and even some of the guys that used to beat me up at school, they all got burned. As a consequence some of us started fighting fire with fire in our own neighborhoods. Others went to far away places like Africa and Borneo to light backfires. Some just became solid citizens and helped guide and grow the community in a righteous way.
Today six spent matches and a piece of granny’s burned rug are framed and mounted over our fireplace in our house on Bowman Road, just to remind us of our purpose.
Yup, granny was an arsonist, and so we must be as well.
*O The Passion, by David Baroni and Gary Sadler 2000 copyright Integrity’s Praise Music
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