As the shrill sound of the telephone penetrated Steve’s unconsciousness, he automatically reached for the phone at the head of the bed. Not finding it, realization dawned on him. He wasn’t in his bed, but across town at a boarding house where he had moved after Heather kicked him out last week, she couldn’t live with him any longer, she was too afraid for him, she had said.
Pushing back the covers he got out of bed, stumbled across the hardwood floors and located the phone.
“Yea” Steve answered groggily
“Steve, this is Edward. Man, we got problems out here.”
“What? When I left things were better. What now?”
“The wind not only shifted on us, but picked up speed too. Looks like we’re in the middle of purgatory out here. I called the water planes in, and I’ve got fifteen men from Cross County coming, but I don’t even think that’ll help. Things jumping the lines faster than we can plow ‘em. What do I do now boss?”
“Hold tight, I’ll be out there as quick as I can. Give me 10 minutes alright? Edward, which way did you say the wind shifted?”
“I didn’t but it’s blowing from the east.”
Steve cradled the receiver back onto the phone as he ran a hand through his hair, while calculating the time left before the fire would reach the suburbs of Chesterville. There wasn’t a lot left.
Steve put on the same smoky clothes he had worn for the past twenty six hours, only fifteen minutes earlier removed, when he had finally surrendered to his exhaustion, retreating from the forest.
Steve could see the black smoke billowing towards the clouds as he drove towards Edward and his crew. The highway patrolman blocking the road leading towards the fire waived Steve around the barricade.
Parking his truck a safe distance away from the fire, Steve ran over to where Edward was shouting orders to crew members. A map of the area, spread across the hood of Edward’s truck, outlined where they needed to plow fire lines next. Shaking their heads in understanding, the crew ran to begin.
Men were scattered everywhere with soot blackened fire flaps, slapping at the flames inching towards them. Others manned the water pumps shooting arches of water towards the life threatening flames. All were unrecognizable, covered in dirt and soot; they resembled demons from hell, dancing against the backdrop of the red sea before them.
The roaring whoosh of the flames drowned out the engine noise of the planes, as they dropped water bombs in strategic areas. Wetting down the dry brush as well as drowning out the fire as they flew overhead.
Steve, checking on the fires progress, calculated that less than fives miles separated his and Heather’s home in Chesterville from the flames. Worried, he told Edward to continue as best he could without him, explaining that he had to see to his family’s safety.
Steve hoped that Heather and the kids had been watching the news reports, and got word of the evacuation. Heather could be so stubborn about things, like this last ultimatum she had given him. ‘Give up the forestry or leave’.
Ever since one of the crew had been seriously burned in a fire last year, she had done nothing but insist that Steve find other employment, not understanding that forestry work was in his blood to stay. Hating the destruction fires caused he found a challenge in putting a stop to them.
Steve listened to his forestry radio as he made his way towards Heather. The fire was still heading towards their subdivision.
He pulled into his driveway, screeching to a halt. Heather ran from the house to him with arms outstretched, screaming, “Steve, I couldn’t get the car started and the twins are frightened! Get us out of here!”
Steve held Heather in his arms for only a moment; he had to get them out of there and fast. Sparks were already landing on the lawn.
As they drove away, the forestry tower transmitted on the radio, “good new boys, the wind has shifted back to the west.”
“Why is that good daddy?”
Steve explained to his daughter that since the fire had already burned in that direction, it couldn’t do much more damage; also the fire fighters would be able to plow any additional lines needed.
“But you can’t trust a wind shift honey; it can instantly change, blowing in another direction in the blink of an eye.”
Heather stared out the truck window at the fire wrought destruction. If it had not been for Steve’s love, they would more than likely still be there at the house to frightened to get away. All jobs were dangerous to some degree she supposed, at least Steve wasn’t out there on the tractors and plows since his promotion. She was sure that with the endurance of love and understanding, she could conquer any fears about his job.
Reaching around their daughters, across the back of the seat, Heather touched Steve’s shoulder. He turned to look into her eyes as she spoke,” I love you, no matter what you do for a living. Please don’t ever let me push you away again.”