With hundreds of raging fires now spreading across the West, I recall another fire—a smaller one, to be sure, but one that could have killed my mother, dad, my little sister and me.
During the summer of 1948, our family camped in the Rockies. Dad had purchased an old army surplus tent, which he dutifully packed up, unpacked, pitched, and packed up again at each stop along our way. Other gear included a Coleman stove for cooking and a large kerosene lantern for light. However, after spending several cold nights at the higher elevations, Dad thought we needed another kerosene lantern for heat, so the next day he drove down the mountain to buy a new one.
That night, as Cathy and I lay cocooned in our woolen sleeping bags inside the tent, Mom and Dad mumbled outside as Dad wrestled with the new contraption. He vigorously pumped the fuel, determined to make “this darn thing” work.
Suddenly, a loud explosion and bright flash illuminated the wall of our tent. “Fire!” Dad screamed. Cathy and I burst into tears, zipped to our chins in our bags! “Fire!” Dad screamed again, “Get water! The trees, the trees!”
I heard him scrambling down the bank to the mountain stream below.
Several terrifying moments passed. Then the flickering light went out as quickly as it began. All was dark again—and quiet. Back from the stream, Dad asked. “What happened to the fire?”
“I threw our drinking water on it,” Mom said. “It was right there, so I just used that.”
There was no response. I guess Dad was completely stunned.
In the morning, Cathy and I saw the charred lantern on the picnic table. Limbs of nearby trees hung directly above the table. I think about that now as I watch the news.