I visited with officials at the Winfield Correctional Facility yesterday to discuss possible ways to help both guards and inmates with some of our college programs. Their facility sits on top of a high ridge at the north end of the city. As the chief of security, Major Michael Smith, and I walked from building to building, we encountered blasts of wind in excess of fifty-miles-an-hour. Both the force and the churning changes of wind direction demanded greater than usual effort to maintain balance.
Right before entering the last building we stood on a low promontory at the north end of their campus. Slick shoes and a thin suit do not comprise the best outfit for personal safety and comfort when walking on pea gravel in gale force wind. I cautiously stood at the thin point that looks out over miles and miles of south central Kansas. A couple of times, even though I wasn’t trying to move, the force of the wind nearly drove me backwards. And, of course, the necessary lean of the body to compensate for that driving push becomes a something of a disadvantage when the gust fades quickly.
As I took in the marvelous panoramic view, I thought about what this would be like in such a wind when the temperature was forty or fifty degrees colder. “I bet this is really bitter out here in January,” I yelled to Major Smith, even though he was standing less than six feet away. He nodded, “If there’s any wind blowing anywhere, it’s blowing here.”
Gusts like this in a place as dry as central and western Kansas had the fire danger rating for the day into the “Catastrophic” category. That rating was not purely academic for me.
I’d just gotten a call from Randa that the electric company and fire department were at our house. The wind had ripped a wire loose from the transformer sitting at the northeast corner of our property. According to the fire crew chief, it had then blown against the transformer, arcing and sparking and setting the grass on fire. One neighbor’s storage building burned down completely. His garage had also caught fire but the fire crew extinguished it before it incurred major damage. Six of us owners had wooden fences at least partially damaged and our deck had also caught fire.
By the time I got home, Westar Energy was repairing the wiring and the fire department was finishing up. As we stepped out the back door, I saw smoke still coming up from where one of the railing posts connected to the deck frame. I also noticed small flames licking up a few inches high from the base of the post. Randa had already connected and used a garden hose earlier to help put out the fire so I turned the water on again and started soaking the spot. One of the firefighters noticed that and came over with a real fire hose. With our ready permission, he started ripping off the wooden lattice underpinning and spraying more water.
There is absolutely no doubt that the fast response from the Ark City fire department saved our house and our neighborhood from much more drastic loss and damage. Unfortunately—we learned later that evening—similar efforts thirty-five miles away were not as successful.
In spite of the combined efforts of multiple crews in the face of that raging wind, Pat and Jimmie Moreland’s house was completely destroyed. Virtually everything they owned taken away by an ember and a fierce prairie wind. Our own loss is nothing more than small expense and inconvenience. Theirs is the loss of a lifetime of keepsakes and souvenirs, handmade gifts and pictures of memories and milestones, a thousand cherished items and nearly all they had of this world’s goods, including their clothes and furnishings. It is a numbing shock that usually staggers even the strongest.
They and all who love them are grateful that they are both safe and alive. Grieving the loss of property is not the same as grieving loss of limb or life. But it is still loss and they will need both the comforting presence of those they love and the Loving Presence of the Comforter.