Preparedness Corner
May 2004
By Paul Vircsik

Hi Neighbors,

Whirlwinds.  They come in many forms.  Warm air mixing with cool, children causing mayhem, or the stressors of life itself.  All dangerous in their own peculiar ways.  Throwing caution to the wind so to speak will not make any of them go away, they must be dealt with on their own ground.  Ah, those special children…

Someone from the ranch asked me when last I was there about embers and how large and how far they can travel in a fire.  Well, let me relate two stories, one written about, the other self awe-ed.  The latter, the awe was at my house.  We finally moved into our home that has been under construction since October ’03 and though the immediate neighborhood is single family homes the surrounding area is still wildland.  Whilst giving the lawn a fresh haircut I heard a familiar sound usually only heard in a wildland fire.  I turned to see a column of dust at least 300’ high whirling towards the homes.  Whirlwind, dust devil, tornadee.  As it hit, the winds picked up all manner of construction debris: large pieces of plastic, cardboard, paper, and sheet metal.  It sucked this stuff high into the funnel and kept it up very high as the whirlwind traveled into the homes.  Hitting the homes knocked some of the stuffing out it and it started to deposit through out the neighborhood.  A complete washer/dryer box landed on the home across the street from me and scared the bajeebers out of the children.  Ah those special children… The light stuff, still large but light, stayed in the cloud of dust as it moved down the street.  I lost sight of the cloud two blocks away even with the plastic and paper high in the sky.

The former whirlwind was witnessed by an air tanker on the Cedar fire and has been written about in several reports.  While traversing the area after a drop the pilots reported seeing a full 4 x 8 sheet of plywood fully involved at 3000’ and 10 miles from the main body of the fire.  The last time I lifted a full sheet, it seemed to me to weigh maybe 30 pounds or so.  Hot embers, ash, sticks and branches weigh a lot less and can travel much farther on the fire created winds.  We had falling embers lighting landscape mulch far from any fire activity.  So be aware of the possibilities of fire laden winds depositing burning materials on your home, under the porch, or blown into the eave or gable vents.  Most of the homes lost were due to this cause.  Proper screening and covers prepared in advance will prohibit this if placed before leaving.  It was funny (not ha ha) to see so many evacuated homes whose owners had piled up all their stuff against the buildings so it wouldn’t burn or be blown around.  Completely the opposite of what should be done.  Put it inside or far away, tie it down or put it in the garage.

Being prepared is a broad statement.  It is the Boy Scout Motto.  I had always thought it was an unattainable goal to be completely prepared, something just slightly out of reach.  Until I met one of my neighbors.  It is with a heavy heart that I write about the life whirlwinds.  We lost a dear friend last month, someone who taught all of us life lessons and was one of the most prepared people I’ve ever met.  He was also a great neighbor.

Everywhere I went with Paul, someone always knew him.  He always had a kind word for them, and sincerely was interested in their lives.  He and Francie have opened their home and volunteered their time for so many people, myself and Marlene included.  My first visits to Trinidad were greeted with a smile as he asked why I arrived wearing shorts in 40 degree temps.  My answer was that it was hot down in Phoenix.  He started teaching me early.  Paul taught and advised.  He knew when to teach and when to let you learn the lesson yourself as he hovered nearby to straighten you up if you fell.  He could fix or build anything and had the tools to loan if you thought you could do it yourself.  His garages were filled with preparatory paraphernalia.  He was a jack-of-all-trades and master of most, and his tools and property are spread all over this ranch as a testament that this man was prepared.

I have previewed property with Paul and Francie and have seen him pick wild nuts, grasses, and berries on hikes knowing which parts were edible and which not and eating as he walked.  His eagle eyes have filled many hands with arrowheads from all over southern Colorado.  I have been a passenger in his car and followed behind and watched as he has come to a sudden stop on our roads to retrieve a railroad spike and toss it to the side of the road so someone else’s tire would not be punchered.

A quite man who shot straight what ever the question.  He had strong opinions on subjects because he was prepared and knew his subjects, but was willing to bend to new information.  I have personally witnessed him help out a competitor who could not get a load up the hill on a job he lost to the very same person.

Paul was ready for everything, even in the end they were prepared though not wanting the result.  I’m not.  I’m not ready to let all the lessons I have learned from him just be part of my hard drive.  I will always wear my shorts on my way to the ranch just to hear him in the background chide me about my goose bumps.  But I did learn to be more prepared and now have the Levis packed on top ready to don as I arrive.

What a whirlwind,

Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background