Saturday, 23 July 2016

After Considerable Consideration......


     As has been said many and sundry times, these are the times that try men's souls.  We have been wandering about, listlessly and trying, if anything, not to think beyond the moment.   This was helped to some degree during the latter stages of our last stay down at our little adobe hut in the Mexican outback.    We had the misfortune, and yet, the opportunity for the performance of many low-heroic moments on the part of many a common man.   The "common men" were drawn from the little ejido (rural agricultural congregation / village) of Francisco I. Madero, Municipal de Hidalgo, Tamaulipas.

     The incident was a fire.  The fire was a matter that burned before authorisation, permits, and other door-to-door informative norms that are usually practiced in that area.  It was even set by the ground-clearing crew involved, notwithstanding the orders of the landowner who specifically forbade any burning at this time of the year, known as "La Canicula" or what the English-speaking world knows at "The Dog Days of Summer".  At this writing, we are nearly mid-way through this year's "Canicula", forty days of heat, usually very dry, but sometimes interrupted by tropical waves or even hurricanes.

     The events went something like this missive which we sent around to family upon return.  I believe it went out on the Thursday morning after my re-entry to Texas on Tuesday afternoon.   Selected portions of that account are included below:

Hello all...

     We have been out of the loop due to the fact that our telephone, television, and computer have been in dry-dock since Saturday last.   This was cause due to "someone" having cut our TWC cable-line that pertains to our system.  In my way of thinking, it had to have been the Time-Warner crew that was working  (during my absence) behind our place back last Saturday.   I was not in-country at that time, so the evidence is not available to justify certainty.  These events are never pleasant.   Your humble servant arrived here in the Magic Lower Rio Grande Valley around mid-day Tuesday past.  Service was restored to our Television, telephone, and computer to-day at 11:15 after being out for over five days.

     In any regard, we had a fairly uneventful stay of it, until near the end.  Our neighbour, Rafael Salazar, had ordered the services of a land clearing company to take out the old dead and dying Valencia orange trees that once composed the bulk of the Hacienda de La Vega's production.  That orchard was well into decline by the time we built our place there back at the turn of the century.  It had been planted originally in the mid - 1930s.    Now is was necessary to clear everything off and make the final preparations so as to begin the process that will end with the completion of planting about 125 acres in limes of a very special and highly sought-after type.   It is anticipated that the entire process should be done on or about 15 November 2016.   At this point, things are a bit ahead of schedule.

     Our problems began last Saturday.   A team of men were working with two Caterpillar D-6s,  and one D-9, with really heavy disc assemblies (4 - row, 36 - inch diametre  disc assemblies, totalling 40 discs, each disc weighing 120 pounds), literally pulverising everything beneath their path.   Some time late in the morning it became apparent that the men had started fires that were intended to burn up the accumulated wood and chaff associated with the clearing project.   The owner of the land, Rafael, had told the owner of the clearing and cleaning service that there would be no burning of anything because the area was dry, and the "canicula"  (dog days of Summer) was on, so burning would be done after obtaining the necessary permits and after establishing a prudent burn plan, considering the neighbours, and the fact that the Rio Corona's Sabine-cypress trees range from 400 to 1,300 years old and are quite famous.  It is worth noting that I was present when Rafael told the clearance company man about this matter and how it must be understood that there would be no burning.

      To shorten the rather lengthy story, we return to Saturday, around mid-day when El Gringo Viejo begins to have an uneasy feeling.   The various mounds of stuff are being set afire.  They are feeding over into other strewn chaff, steadily lighting the next mound to the east, as the variable and strengthening winds would permit.   The smoke was becoming quite noticeable, along with increasingly worrisome warmth that augments temperatures that are already in the upper - 90s, and heading for 102 - 104 degrees during the afternoon.    I go over to the main entry gate and look around, even as the smoke is beginning to be oppressive.   I am astounded to note threat no effort had been given to the forming of a perimetrical double-pass in width around the edge of the property line of the area under concern,   This would be the minimal norm for providing a border that could serve to protect both the primitive areas and riverine forests as well as houses adjacent to the Hacienda de La Vega.   But, alas, the bramble and all kinds of forest-fire friendly fuel was in full abundance along the Rio Corona as well as on the approach the house of EL Gringo Viejo....the now-famous Quinta Tesoro de la Sierra Madre.   After that, there were over 100 homes that would face certain devastation.

     At about 14:30 hours, I loaded up the rear of the Jeep Cherokee with a few clothes, my little suitcase with underwear, socks, t-shirts and the like, my shaving bag, money bag, documents about the property and house, threw the cats outside to their fortune, and made one last try to raise interest in the issue among the locals.   I drove into the Hacienda de La Vega and encountered about forty people at the little home of the the manager preparing to celebrate the birthday of said manager....all on them in full danger of slower moving, but still very active north-bound fire-line.   I tried to convince them to move, and that they only had about 15....perhaps 20....minutes of escape opportunity.   They remained immobile and best.  They were waiting for the manager to return from a nearby village with chickens for grilling and with his daughter (not for grilling) so as to continue with the birthday celebration. They said he was due at any second.

     Then I turned and essentially made a quick drive down the longest lane in our village trying to alert each and every person I saw or whom it was thought might be at home.   For a second my brain coughed up a bad correlation...that of Paul the point I was driving up to the home of Alvaro's (the Quinta's majordomo) sister and brother-in-law...Imelda and Efrain.  All were gone to Monterrey, save for Efrain, whom I managed to stir from siesta...he had done the early morning shift at the Hacienda de Santa Engracia (to-day a hotel) where he is the chief of the service staff and general charge d' affairs.  I told him what was going on and he immediately set out on his bicycle, declaring that he would try to collect more men.  He was told that I would  return to the Quinta and extend the hoses by another couple of fifty-foot lengths and meet them at the Brazil tree, about 50 feet to the south of the Quinta's "long, west-facing corridor   There I would have the hose with the "fireman's nozzle" and a few extra buckets.   Almost everyone arrived, however, with one large bucket and a smaller bucket for working little 'hot-spots'  with greater dexterity and accuracy.    In all, Efrain had brought about six or seven, while others were arriving one-by-two, half-trotting on the grade down the little trail where people, in normally calmer moments, would drive the few feet to the very nearby Rio Corona.

     We had water coming into our cistern, as per normal, starting at 15:00 hours, and our cistern was starting off essentially totally full from the day before, and that was our one best blessing.   So I set about to fill buckets as they were presented  and / or arrived.  If there were no buckets, I sprayed the fire in in front of me....about 15 - 17 feet to the fore and to each side.  The fact is, however, that 97% of the real work was done by the bucket people....harder and more dangerous.
     It was 40 minutes of the hardest work in my presence during this life.   The manager of the Hacienda de La Vega had returned with his daughter and the chicken, scruffed up the Caterpillar team....scolding them severely....and forced them to return to our fire-line, essentially a third of a mile away, on the other side of the Hacienda de La Vega.   I had seen them through the smoke, slowly clattering, squealing, roaring, squeaking as they approached ever closer to us....pulling their disking assemblies back to make a to-and-fro pass literally right in front on us.  How they could breathe in the smoke, I have no idea,
    The manager, a fellow named Ciro, came trotting up through the smoke with his big bucket and little bucket to join the fight.  Amazing.  Buying chicken for the barbecue, bringing his daughter down, driving through the smoke to see if his house and the family and other celebrants were still there and alive, then getting down and running over to the Caterpillar drivers and giving them Holy Hell and scathing, profanity-laced rebuke and ordering them to return to the fight that they had caused and then abandoned....and now coming to the fight himself, with his own buckets.   Ah, Mexico. ( the way, Ciro has never used profanity of any kind within my hearing for the 15 years that I have known him)

     Being older and using that authority, he began to order some of the people to return to their homes and remain available if possible.   Efrain discharged a few as well, but about half remained.   Efrain had promised my back-door neighbour, Anastacio (Tacho) that I would give him a beer at the end of the fight.   After another hour, all had returned home save for Efren, who stayed around to make sure I did not keel over and croak.   He and Ciro would return to hold a vigil during much of the night to watch for possible flare-ups.   Four or five of their posse would be with them.  I sought out Anastacio next door and offered him another beer and 100 pesos for his trouble.  He took the beer, but refused the money.   I protested  and said, "Pero, Don Tacho, Usted ayudo' en salvar a mi casa (But, Tacho, you helped to save my house),"  But he responded, "Y Usted ayudo' en salvar a la mia (And you helped save MY house)".   Ah, Mexico.

    The next morning, at around 7:45, Ciro came back with a bucket, and declared that he had seen a bit of smoke near where we had been working the late afternoon before.   So I took the hoses down again and a few buckets and he rooted out the smoldering area and drowned it. 

     There are many side stories.  A lady from the National Forestry Commission, which my neighbour, the owner of the Hacienda de La Vega, had headed up the Northeastern Division (four States) called him after I had informed him about the fire.   This lady advised my neighbour that the Mexican satellite that monitors  such things as forest fires, etc. had sent the automatic notification to the Commission and she recognised the co-ordinates as being the Hacienda de La Vega.   It was evaluated to be a Level One (most potentially dangerous) conflagration and the estimated "ruin" was about 125 acres but no structures.   It was later evaluated as "controlled".  

     That is some of the story about "The Fire" .