Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fire Season

Posted by: Rick

Mid-Summer is wildfire season up here (as it is in most of the West). A small forest fire, called the Keystone Fire, has been burning near Albany, WY--about 30 miles away--for the past month. We occasionally get some smoke from that fire, but it has not spread much and is about 50% contained.

First signs of the "Pole Cat" fire.

It has been hot and dry with no measurable rain for a while, so the conditions for a wildfire are optimal. And, with idiots firing off fireworks for the 4th of July (you know who you are), campers with open fires in the woods, and occasional dry lightning, the opportunity for ignition are high.

Lynne and I had been in town yesterday morning doing some shopping to get us through another week. After we got home, about 1:40 in the afternoon, I got a call from our "neighbor" David. (I put "neighbor" in quotes because we all live on large parcels of land and our nearest neighbor is still quite a long way away). He told me that Bruce from the Chimney Rock Ranch had called to say he saw smoke rising out of a draw in Sand Creek Park somewhere east and to the south of the Running Water Ranch.

David was going to drive toward the Running Water Ranch using Bridge Road. He wondered if we'd jump in our truck and go around another way, up CR80C to FR87C and then back into Sand Creek Park from the east, watching for smoke and thus the location of a possible fire. Lynne, Destin and I jumped in the truck and took off.

When we got to the boundary of Sand Creek Park on Running Water Ranch Road, we could smell, but not see, smoke. When we finally got to the ranch location (it is no longer a working ranch but a seasonal residence of the restored ranch buildings), we turned around and could see smoke coming up from a draw directly to the east of us. Sure enough, there was a small wildfire somewhere over there.

It was now 2:28 and I called 911. I got an operator in Wyoming and once we established that the fire was probably in Colorado, they transferred me to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office where I described the situation and the approximate location of the fire. They said they'd dispatch appropriate resources.

David and Debra had joined us at the Running Water Ranch, and they took off up Laramie Overlook road while Lynne and I backtracked to FR87C, also known as Boulder Ridge Road, where we drove north for a while and then came back into Sand Creek Park on Laramie Overlook road from the opposite direction. And, sure enough, at one point we could see the smoke and even flames at the base of the smoke. I called David to report, but he and a few others were already on the scene. He gave me exact directions to the fire. I called 911 again and was routed to the Sheriff's Office where I described the exact location of the fire--turn off Laramie Overlook onto Pole Cat and climb the hill. Park where there were other vehicles and hike down the hill some. The first photo above is the scene from where our trucks were parked.

Already on the scene.

When I got to the fire, there were several people already there: Bruce, the rancher who originally spotted the smoke had driven toward it, then hiked in with a shovel. Melissa, who has a cabin nearby and was alerted to the fire by David and Debra. She had some shovels and an axe that she brought to the fire. And, David and Debra were there. All were already working the perimeter of the fire with shovels to keep it contained.

The beginnings of a wildfire.

I was surprised at how hot the fire was. There were large stumps of dead Ponderosa pine that were slowly burning. They gave off tremendous heat. And, the fire was at the core of these large stumps. So, it appears the fire had been burning for quite a while. Lightning had clearly hit the large pine that you can see at the right side of the above photo. You could see the "zipper" line where the lightning had wrapped around the tree and hit the ground. Likely, that started the dry pine needles at the base of the tree on fire and it spread to the dead stumps and surrounding grasses. Luckily, the ground was damp and there was no wind, so the fire stayed contained to a relatively small area (although it kept trying to escape while we were there).

The "girls" keeping the fire contained.

Oscar, another "neighbor" from way over on Bull Mountain drove toward the fire and on the way picked up one of our fire wagons. We have three stationed around Sand Creek Park. They are trailers with several hundred gallons of water onboard as well as a gas powered pump, a couple of strings of hose, some tools like shovels and rakes, as well as a way to pump more water into the tank if needed. Oscar showed up with the fire wagon at 3:26 and we got right to work. 

The fire wagon.

We need to do some maintenance of these wagons, I guess. We could not immediately get the storage compartment that held the hose open. And, a valve to turn on the water was stuck. But, with some brute force we got those fixed. The engine started right up and soon we had water flowing to the fire. One string of hose was enough that along with the water pressure, Debra was able to douse most of the active area of the fire.

David looks on as his wife takes charge of the water.

The scenery is beautiful, but the idea of a wild fire is scary.

I'm not sure how much water the fire wagon holds, maybe a couple of hundred gallons? It did not take long to exhaust the amount of water on board. But, the water did put down the flames and allowed us to work and turn the ground with shovels to further suppress the fire.

No that is not a sea monster, but a burned stump.

By about 3:50, we'd done what we could with water. And, the active fire was suppressed. But, the scene was till smoldering and the stumps were still hot with coals. The fire was not "out" yet by any means, but it was also unlikely to go anywhere as long as we kept working the perimeter with shovels and rakes.

No more flames, and well under control by about 3:45. Good thing, too. We were out of water.

At 3:53, the first responder arrived. A volunteer from the Livermore (Colorado) fire department arrived in a truck. He had come up CR80C to FR87C to Laramie Overlook then into Sand Creek Park where he could see the fire. He whooped his siren to let us know he was close by. He still had to find Pole Cat and get up the hill to us. As he drove in, at each turn that got closer to the fire he'd drop some flags out the window of his truck. These flags would then be indicators to those that followed where to turn to locate the fire.

He called in over an open frequency monitored by all the fire departments in the area as well as the Sheriff's office. He gave the exact location of the fire along with the status. The "locals" had established a perimeter and had the fire in control. This first responder did not carry any water, but was able to get to the scene fast, do an assessment, and rally any additional help needed.

But, before the Livermore FD could get to the site with a water truck, the Tie Siding (Wyoming) volunteer fire department showed up. They had come up Boulder Ridge Road (FR87C) from the Wyoming side and the followed the flags to the site. They had a crew of two. And water!

The Tie Siding Volunteer Fire Crew shows up at 3:53. Just less than 1-1/2 hours after the first 911 call.

Here comes more water. And, foam is mixed with the water to halve its viscosity. That effectively doubles the amount of water while helping to lower evaporation and further suppress the fire.

The crew of two, a man and a woman, began further dousing the fire with water and foam. All the while, the woman was using a shovel to turn the dirt and ash over. They were working the moisure into the ground. 

It started to get cloudy, and we could hear the rumble of thunder in the background. What a beautiful view into Wyoming from the fire site.

The fire likely started when lightning hit the tree in the background. Since the tree is alive and "wet" it did not catch. But, the dry pine needles and pine cones at its base did. They must have smoldered overnight. 

The Livermore FD water truck had arrived in the area about the same time that the Tie Siding crew showed up. But, rather than climb the hill on Pole Cat, they stayed on the other side of the canyon. If more water was needed, they could provide it. So, both fire departments played a role. Also, around 4:00 another "neighbor", Ron, showed up with a second fire wagon and some young stong nephews who could help turn the soil and finally suppress the fire.

Strong, young backs, (well maybe not the dude in white), turn the soil and further suppress the fire.

At this point, about 4:15, Lynne and I left. There was nothing more we could do on the site and poor Destin had been sitting in the truck for a couple of hours. He was ready to get home to a big drink of water and his dinner.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What’s for Dinner? Puffball Parmesan!

Posted by: Lynne

Yes, you heard right. The other night for dinner we picked a couple of the puffball mushrooms that grow at this time of year at the top of our driveway. And yes, these are the same mushroom that if you let them go they become those powdery things that are so much fun to step on and watch the brown spores explode all over the place. BUT, if you catch them when they are still young and firm they are completey and wonderfully edible. No joke! 

One of our mushroom books had a recipe for Puffball Parmesan which sounded really good to us, so we went for it. We've never eaten puffballs before so it was kind of an experiment. And hey, we didn't even have a frozen pizza standing by just in case it was inedible.

The recipe called for making a tomato sauce with green peppers, onions, garlic, whole canned tomatoes and tomato paste. 

We cut up the puffballs into "eggplant" like thick slices, then they got dipped in egg and coated with grated parmesan and bread crumbs (and savory, salt & pepper). Into the frying pan they went until golden brown. Then in they went to the casserole dish in a single layer, sliced mozzarella, and the tomato sauce was poured over them. More parm on the top.

And here is how it looked coming out of the oven.

And on the plate before it went into my mouth and got eaten completely up.

I have to say it was so DELICIOUS! Very meaty and eggplant like but with a delicate flavor like I imagine tofu to taste (although I've never had it). You would never have known you were eating a mushroom. The sauce was wonderful and I think we'll use it on other italian meals. Although our mushroom book said that sometimes they can cause indigestion we had no issues whatsoever. I have more issues after eating fast food! It's too bad they only appear at this time of year and not on a regular basis. They grow really fast so you have to catch them before they get too big. We'll be having them again next year for sure. Care to join us for dinner?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

August 2016 Retrospective

Posted by: Rick

Looking back, August was a month of progress with a hint of change. We made progress toward our winter preparations and full-time living. 

The propane generator was delivered (although it still needs to be connected to a yet-to-be-delivered propane tank, and wired into the house).

I've been working on insulating the shed, and I put up shelves so it can be a place to store supplies such as canned food, dog and cat food, extra dry ingredients like flour, rice, beans, etc. I got some UHT milk and cream out there already. And, we bought a Sam's Club membership (the closest is in Cheyenne, Wyoming) and we'll stock up before winter.

We will have a propane fridge out there along with the freezer. We bought the freezer a week or so ago.

You may question the wisdom of an electric freezer in an off-the-grid cabin. But, my logic goes something like this: once the freezer is cold and filled with frozen goods, it probably won't run much. The hotter the ambient temperature, the more it will run. But, the hottest ambient temperatures are in the summer when we also have the most sun to provide power. In winter, the shed will likely be quite cool (even after insulating it), and the freezer won't run as much. We'll see. Turns out, propane appliances are very expensive while the electric versions are much more affordable. Experimenting with an electric alternative may save us a lot of money.

Storage in the barn is in good shape too. I've installed some shelves (with more hand-built shelves to come) along with some clothes wardrobes. We now have a place to put seasonal clothing.

I've decided I have way too many clothes. So, some additional organizing and pruning needs to be done. I wear jeans, a t-shirt, and a long-sleeved shirt pretty much every day. I try to wear old worn out and stained jeans when doing "dirty" chores, then change into a nice pair for just hanging out around the cabin. A t-shirt is sufficient when it is sunny and especially if I'm doing any work. A long-sleeved shirt may be needed if the sun gets to be to much on my delicate skin, or if it gets a bit chilly. I'm sure I look like a hillbilly when I go into town because I don't dress "special" for that trip.

Turns out, now that we have a washing machine, I could probably live with 4 pair of jeans, 4 to 6 t-shirts, and similar number of long-sleeved shirts and a week's worth of underwear. I also need one or two pair of nice slacks, a couple of dressy shirts and a sports jacket--not sure why, but I think I need these things. What I don't need is the two or three wardrobe boxes of Hawaiian shirts, dress pants, short-sleeved shirts, and other sundry clothing that I will likely never wear.

We will need to switch out summer shirts for flannel in winter. And, find a place to put sweaters and coats.

The wildlife is both leaving and coming. The hummingbirds are about gone. They come around Mother's Day and are gone around Labor Day. Where we used to have maybe 50, we now have 3 or 4. It is sad to see them go. (See the hummingbird video below!) But, the shorter days and cooler weather mean other animals are on the move. Wildlife that seems to go away for summer is back. We are seeing more moose and deer, even a few elk already. Coyotes howl and bark at night. The Great Horned Owls make their variety of calls almost every evening. We are seeing lots of hawks and eagles on our drive into town and back (along with many antelope). Hunting seasons start soon and somehow the animals know the schedule, so they will disappear again soon for a while. Did you see the game camera shot of the mountain lion from a few weeks ago? 

More...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

How Do We Like Living Here So Far?

Posted by: Lynne

The Meadow at sunset, Bull Mountain in the background.

Gee, that's a hard question! Let me see ...

Yesterday morning on our way into town (our activities yesterday require another whole blog post) we saw in this order, a herd of antelope that have been hanging out in the area around Bucky Beavers', cows, a coyote, a bald eagle, about four unidentified hawks, more cows. When we arrived home (the first time —see I told you yesterday was crazy) as I drove down the driveway I spooked our Great-Horned owl who was apparently sitting on our barn and all I saw was a huge wingspan sweeping away from me.

On our walk to the bottom with the dogs last night after dinner I looked up to see four big bucks (deer) with large racks running across the ridgeline on the top of the hill. Gorgeous!

Just as it was beginning to get dark I looked out to see our resident mamma moose and baby at the mineral lick right outside our diningroom window. 

And that was just yesterday! We are also fond of sitting out on the front porch and listening to the pair of owls perform a duet of squawks and calls after dinner.

Geez, right now I am sitting here at the table typing this post and who shows up but mamma moose and baby, right now! And here they are.

Any more silly questions you'd like to ask?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust and the Firewood Process

Posted by: Lynne

As you already know, we have a huge amount of beetle-kill on our land. It's sad when another once-beautiful stately pine gives up and succumbs to gravity. Last week we came home from being in town and I looked out the window and the view just didn't look right. I said to Rick, that tree wasn't down before was it? No, it wasn't and it's a biggun. But at least the trees that are dead and eventually fall will go on to keep us warm and cozy in the winter. Gathering wood is essential to our lifestyle, and it also keeps the ground clear of fallen trees.

Here Hailey demonstrates where the tree is in regards to the cabin. I think we are leaving the tree right where it is for now and we have plans for how to use it —maybe a sign for our new (yet to be done) gate post? Maybe some furniture? Two people close by have a sawmill that would make quick work of it. And, the wood is so lovely.

We still have a huge stack of logs from the cutting of the trees in the meadow that are close to the cabin. We decided that instead of taking the easy way out and using that stack we would go further into the meadow and harvest from there for now since in winter it will be covered in snow and unreachable. Better to save the close-in wood for a winter emergency stash. We also need to get the darned wood shed built, and now that our propane generator is delivered and in place we'll soon be able to start on it once the propane tank is delivered, which we are hoping won't be too long from now.

We posted a week or so ago about putting up wood and here is how it looked then. I thought you might be interested in seeing the steps that go into that nice neat stack of wood. Well, okay, I admit it's not as neat as I would like it. It kind of leans and takes a turn in the middle. But, hey.

This is a load of logs that we cut down in the bottom of our property from a large tree that had fallen over years ago and also what was left of two trees that were leaning over the road that our neighbor Mark (who owns land above us) cut down. We told him he could have the wood if he wanted it, and then he left us a couple of logs.

Here is Rick sectioning out a large tree (already fallen) into logs out in the meadow.

Our bounty from the meadow loaded up into MM (Mountain Mia, as we call our Ranger). Again, some pretty hefty logs!

Next comes the smaller sectioning of logs in prepartion for the splitter. We cut the log lengths into smaller segments that will fit into our wood stove. Longer pieces can be burned in the fireplace. It's a messy process and the reason why we wear overalls when doing this part—sawdust everywhere! Rick runs the saw and I push the log into place for him with each cut.

Next comes the fun part — the splitting! Having the splitter makes it so easy. Some of the bigger logs need to be cut into six or eight pieces, depending on the size of the tree. Make a split, put it back on, split it again! This one I think we ended up splitting six ways. I love running the splitter, but sometimes I load the logs onto the splitter and Rick splits. Either way, with two people working the time passes quickly and pretty soon you have a wonderful piney-smelling big stack of lovely split wood! (see next photo).

Here is all the wood after it's been split.

It's not only fun (well, I think so) but a good workout for the abs and everything else. Plus, you get to see and feel the wood up close. All this wood is beetle kill which gives it layers of blue-ish-gray rings. When it's cut into lumber it makes cool stripes. We found all kinds of funny things inside the trees marking-wise. Some had a yellow laquer and funny holes. Some bark had what I like to call "ancient tree writing" on it, which I think are just simply bug tracks. It looks like tree hieroglyphics to me. And some pieces just had ants. Tons of red ants, some of which ran down into my overalls biting at my tender flesh. Damn things.

Sometimes I see wood that I want to keep which drives Rick crazy. I have a pair of "boots" that I use as bookends. I also kept this slab of wood because this tree had two hearts and a beautiful beetle pattern. Rick is going to sand it down for me and then I think I will shellac it and display it.

Another find of mine from this batch of wood, is this single boot. I liked it because it does look like a cowboy boot and the heart of the tree is so lovely and round on the front of the boot.

After all the gathering, sectioning and splitting comes the stacking. Of course. Here is our finished stack of wood which is about a cord and half, with another 2/3 cord on the front porch.

Yes, it does seem like ALOT of work, doesn't it? But there is something very satisfying about working with wood and knowing that all your hard work now will pay off in the winter when you are sitting around a toasty wood fire nodding off for a nap with your book in your lap. That, and that you can stand back and look at what you've accomplished —just you and no middle man. Making use of what nature left behind. I am thinking it's a good thing and well worth the effort.

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