Artificial Rain: Surving Forest Fires Off Grid- 100 Miles From Anyone ( Off Grid and Free )

Categories: Nature

In last month's post, Update from Off Grid and Free: Our Garden is Flourishing, I mentioned, we were taking advantage of the remaining snow to gather firewood with our snowmobile for next winter's heating season. Abnormally warm weather showed up and we had a relatively early ice out this year of May 10. A south wind came up the lake and it only took a minute for the sheet of ice to drive our dock up onto shore snapping 2X4's like twigs. Moving ice has enormous power and it took a few days to reconstruct parts and get it back in the lake.

Once the ice is gone, we have a spring ritual which is top priority. That is to prepare for fire season. We live in an area that has a relatively dry summer environment and every lightning bolt that flies is a potential fire starter. The forest is comprised mostly of jack pine and black spruce, two species of trees that burn vigorously. For days after any thunderstorm, I will go out frequently to scan the surrounding countryside for the faintest sign of rising smoke. while at the same time smelling the air for the slightest whiff. Sometimes I will climb the ladder to the roof of our two story home where I have a height advantage and a 360 degree view. A fire can show up on our doorstep with frightening speed. A look out any window can reveal no hint of danger one minute and the next, a raging inferno can be seen on the move. It can lob hot embers far in advance of itself to start additional fires. They can even create their own weather systems. Over the last 16 years of living in the wilderness, we have faced many fire threats. Two of them major. Between those two, approximately ¾ of a million acres have burned around here, and twice, fire burned within 90 feet of our homestead.

When a fire threatens, we implement a plan that was formulated long before the start of fire season. We place survival suits neatly by the downstairs door. Remember, we are 100 miles in the wilderness. Access is by float plane only so we can't run to a car and drive away. We have two choices of escape. Both involve making a dash for the dock. The boat is our prime means of getting away, but with survival suits, we are prepared to bail into the lake if there is no time to get the boat running.
During the big fire of 2002, I was out here alone when it arrived. The following excerpt is from my book: Off Grid and Free : My Path to the Wilderness:

“That afternoon, a fire crew landed to fuel the pumps and to double-check our setup. Before leaving, the pilot told me not to worry, the fire was far away. But the native fire crew, who had far more experience than the pilot, told me they sensed it was on its way. They wished me well and then departed. A few hours later, the situation was starting to look bleak. Although it was only late afternoon, it was getting dark and ash was falling. I went down to the beach and heard a faint rumbling in the distance and saw the southern sky glowing orange. It was showtime, and no force on Earth was going to stop the approach of the inevitable firestorm. I came back to the house, wrote a quick note, and stashed it in our cook stove for safe keeping. If the house burned and I didn’t survive, someone, someday, would open the stove and hopefully find an intact piece of paper from me.”
I did indeed survive and it was a night I will never forget. I was surrounded by fire and as far as I was concerned, the entire world was on fire. Our homestead also survived. Here's how we did it.
We have an unlimited water source living on this lake and a gas powered water pump is set up on the beach each year. There is a 2.5 inch suction line attached to the pump via a quick coupler which goes into the lake with an attached foot valve. This foot valve insures that once water flows into the system, it can't drain back into the lake. This is important so that the pump never loses its prime. I prop the foot valve up about 8 inches off the lake bottom with a concrete block so sand and debris aren't sucked into the pump.

On the output of the water pump is an adapter and a coupler which attach to a standard 1.5 inch firehose. Several lengths of firehose are connected together and make the run up to our house where it is then connected to a mounted manifold. This manifold merely takes the high pressure water from the pump and redirects it to 5 sprinkler feed lines. Each feed line has its own shut off valve so we can control what sprinklers we want to have running. We use standard garden hose and sprinklers but if we had it to do over again, I think we would opt for more powerful sprinklers and ¾ inch fire hoses. Our manifold also lets us run more standard firehose out to our perimeter where we can tackle hot spots with a nozzle. The nozzle is adjustable from a wide spray to a pulverizing stream that can reach 100 feet.

At each end of our roof I mount a sprinkler on a short pole. Our home and outbuildings are now covered and in the event of a forest fire. As long as we get the pump running, water will be flowing off our roof as as if it were raining.

The last thing we do is cut small diameter (5 inch) trees that are limbed and as tall as possible. Twenty to twenty five feet is good. We mount a sprinkler on the top and then raise it up like a big flag pole. These sprinkler poles are set up in strategic locations around the perimeter so that their spray just overlap each other. We cut a tree leaving a 6 foot stump which makes a good place to attach the “sprinkler flag pole.” Or a pole can be freestanding using a set of tripod legs cut from the forest and nailed to the pole to keep it upright. The basic premise is to run the sprinklers before the fire arrives. Saturate the ground and bring the humidity level up. That dome of humidity has a tendency to bounce the fire around the protected area.

For those in fire prone areas, take advantage of any water source be it lake, stream, swimming pool or tap. It's cheap insurance to have a pump and sprinklers set up well in advance of fire season. Make sure all combustible leaves, needles and debris are raked up near any buildings. Try to cut off the lower branches of nearby trees so they don't act as “ladder fuels.” Ladder fuels allow a ground fire to climb the tree and get into the crowns. Once that happens, it's real trouble. Consider metal roofing and siding as a protective layer to your home.

Above all, have a plan of escape and never underestimate how fast a forest fire can erupt and travel. We've survived 2 direct hits from major forest fires. The area all around us has burned but our little homestead and oasis of green surrounding it are a testament that sprinklers work.
Thanks for reading and I'll be back again next month.  

Order Your Copy today:  Off grid and Free:  May Path to the Wilderness

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and onFacebook and Pinterest.

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