One August day me and Skeeter and T-bird were guidin’ a party of three husband-wife couples from Chicago. Nice folks. We had a decent morning of fishing…everybody caught something except for one of the husbands, Chuck. He wasn’t real chipper ‘cause his wife outfished him five to zip.
Anyway, we cruised on down below McAtee and pulled over in a shady spot for lunch. Dang, it had been a hot summer! 90 degrees every day and the country was drier than a popcorn fart. And windy! Had a nice lunch talking about the Cubs and Da Bears. T-Bird brought his guitar and sang “Big City” by Merle Haggard and then did his own version of “Doo Wah Diddy” by Manfred Man’s Earth Band.
Looking down river by the Shewmaker Ditch and off to the east I saw smoke…lots of smoke. Smoke billowing up in cream colored clouds, thick smoke, smoke fanned by a stiff south breeze and wafting down valley in a huge ball of white haze.
I looked at Skeeter and he was like “WTF”? I looked at T-Bird and he was like “OMG”! We decide to pack up and fish down and check it out.
A couple bends downstream we came around a corner and spotted several stick figures running in the distance…running fast, carrying large objects, headed for drift boats that were anchored up along shore, jumping in, thrashing oars, rowing downstream in a big hurry, gettin’ outta Dodge.
We pulled over, got out, and wandered up the bank, worked our way through the bushes. The smoke was so thick it was hard to see, eyes watered and burned. We looked out across the wide area, the entire field was ablaze…a huge grass fire the shape of a gigantic circle was burning and spreading fast, headed toward the highway or anywhere else it felt like. No dwellings were in the area except for an old sheep shack and acres and acres of burning prairie grass and black rocks. As I walked I saw a large campfire ring with charcoal glowing in the center. A large can of Kingsford lighter fluid sat crumpled off to the side. The lid off a Coleman cooler lay nearby, burned black and partially melted. I wandered around through the burned area and over near a charred cottonwood stump I noticed something odd. I saw a crumpled hunk of charred metal with struts and gizmos and gadgets in a tangled mess, looked kinda like a wrecked kids Erector Set toy. I called Skeeter over.
“Hey, Skeeter, check this out. Careful, it’s still hot. Bring a water bottle, douse it, bag it and throw it in the boat.”
Watching the several-acre fire burn out of control left us helpless. What could we do? As we left the scene, we could hear the sirens… the first fire engine was coming off the highway and on its way. We jumped in our boats and finished the charter.
Back in Town, the fire was already the buzz topic at the Wagon Wheel. It had consumed 1300 acres, no injuries, just a bunch of burnt grass and toasted rocks. The volunteer fire department did a great job with limited resources… they only had two out-dated fire engines and a pumper.
No one seemed to know how it started.
A couple guides from the other fly shop were giving me and Skeeter the stink-eye from across the bar. I walked over to them,
“Whats’ up?” I asked.
“Did you float today?”
“Did you see the fire?”
“How did it start?”
“Did you guys start it?”
“No… it wasn’t us, bro, but I think I know.”
I remembered seeing one boat leaving the fire scene that caught my eye …it had a large rainbow peace sign logo on the bow.