When the snow finally melts, it leaves the land covered with tinder dry brown grass and the marshes full of last year’s dead reeds. They also burn like hot paper even though the marsh is wet underneath. It takes weeks for new green reeds to grow up enough to end the fire hazard. In the meantime, red winged blackbirds build nests in the reeds, ducks and geese nest in their shelter, laying eggs and hatching little ones.
So, when awakened at 3 am by a weirdly orange sky and wavering light that shouldn’t be there beyond the edge of the hill, I knew the reeds were on fire. For those of us with houses and barns on the edge of the flammable marsh, this is always our spring anxiety. I bolted out of bed, and drove off down the road to find the source. There is always the chance that a marsh fire at night might not be noticed until far out of control.
This one was east of the causeway to Big Island and spectacular in size. Driven by a strong west wind, it swept in a fiery wall through the middle of the marsh and licked up with roaring flames along the shore. It had been noticed. Most of the county fire trucks and some from Belleville were called in. In the end, it took 20 trucks and 40 firemen working through the night to control the blaze. Firefighters have to don heavy back packs and slog out into the marsh itself to spray the flames, a hard, hot, laborious process.
By morning, there were acres of blackened marsh with stubborn, scattered blazes left to occupy the weary firefighters. This one was early enough so that I hope there were no nestlings yet to incinerate. The causeway kept the fire from my side of the marsh this time. No one knows how such a spread out fire got started. There are still those who are idiot enough to toss cigarette butts from their cars. Or perhaps start marsh fires for fun. Those folks, as our local nature guru growls, need to be strung up by their “cojones”.
Now we all fervently hope fire is done playing with us here for at least another year.