Worry from far away

I went to the dentist yesterday. Part of the process of moving is establishing care from a variety of providers: new dentist, new pharmacist, new doctor, etc. The dental technician who helped me said, “The weather this year has been very unusual.” I almost laughed out loud when she said it. I’ve been told that about every place I’ve lived since I became an adult, I think. When we are new to an area, we are told that it usually isn’t as hot or as cold or as snowy as we experienced. The comment yesterday was specifically in reference to the wind. Sunday was a blustery day with wind and rain. At times, the rain was coming down in sheets and the wind was driving it hard. It didn’t rain all day. We took a walk in the afternoon and stayed dry. But it was windy. The wind grabbed the trampoline in the back yard of one of our neighbor’s homes and threw it up against their house. We don’t know where the cover for our outdoor grill ended up. All we know is that it is completely gone and we can’t find a trace of it. It must have blown over the fence and who knows how far it went?

Yesterday was a really windy day in Rapid City, too. If we still lived there, we would be keeping our eyes on the wildfires that sprang up. Two smaller fires burned near enough to Mount Rushmore to have the road and the monument closed yesterday. They also burned some key power distribution poles. The Electric cooperative that supplied power to our home when we lived there reported that hundreds of homes were without electricity as crews scrambled to restore power. The bigger fire, burning west of town was estimated at 1900 acres. Two homes and numerous outbuildings have been lost to the fire and around 500 people have been evacuated. The photos on facebook and on the news websites show places that are very familiar to us. Our friends have posted pictures of the smoke plume and the thick smoke that blankets the city. The neighborhood where we lived is not under evacuation and the homes there are safe for now but we have friends who have evacuated and who are waiting to hear about their homes.

One news photo showed the county emergency command post, a vehicle with which I am familiar because of my work with the Sheriff’s Office and Pennington County Search and Rescue, parked in the parking lot of the high school our children attended.

To be clear, if we were still living there, we would not be affected by the fires. Our church building is far away from the flames. The Red Cross shelter is in a Baptist Church and supplies have been on hand for such for a long time. There is nothing I would be doing except staying out of the way of the firefighters, something some County and State officials have trouble doing. I feel, however, a bit like I am in the wrong place. When hard times come, I belong with my people and some of my people are there in the smoke and confusion. I know firefighters who are on the lines. I know officers who are staffing the command post. I know people who have evacuated their homes. I feel powerless as I look at the computer and try to figure out what the latest news might be.

Professional ethics are clear. There is a new pastor in town. It is my job to stay clear and allow that pastor to connect with the congregation. It is critical that I not interfere. It is a good thing that I am here - far away. But it doesn’t stop me from worrying.

I still get phone calls from church members. Last week it was a problem with the voice mail system on the church phones. This week it was a search for a contract signed several years ago. I don’t mind the phone calls. I try my best to help without meddling. And sometimes, as was the case with the phone system, I haven’t got a clue what to do. I guess the fact that I knew the service provider that supplied the phones off the top of my head gave them a place to call for help.

I sort of hope that in the midst of the smoke and the voice mail not working and all of the other challenges being faced by the interim pastor, someone says to him, “This is a very unusual year. It usually isn’t like this around here.” It would be the truth. The pandemic changed everything. Fire, while a part of life in the forest, doesn’t dominate every conversation every year.

On the other hand, we all knew that the hills were ripe for a major fire and that the way that homes are built up in the hills and the amount of fuel on the ground with dead trees and other problems mean that some fires will bring disaster to some families. Everyone I know who is out working the fires has been preparing for years for this kind of an event. They knew it was coming.

The state is tinder dry. Along with the fires in the hills, a grass fire closed part of the Interstate a hundred miles east of town. It doesn’t take much for wildfire to become huge and dangerous when the winds are blowing that strong. The winds have died down a bit with the coming of night, but they could easily be blowing more than 30 mph tomorrow. There is a lot of danger and a lot of hard work ahead for the people in Rapid City. I hope they know that were are lots of us who are far away who are keeping them in our prayers and hoping for safety for all involved.

Holy Week 2021 is one that the folks of Rapid City won’t soon forget.