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Lightening strike on Timber Butte

Lightening strike on Timber Butte

On August 29th Nancy and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary by enjoying a quiet steak dinner on our back porch.  It was a delightfully cool summer evening and both of us commented that we couldn’t have thought of a more wonderful place to be.  The sky was clear except for some magnificent building thunderheads over the distant mountains in the east.   I think it was about eight when we finished eating and were peacefully enjoying each other’s conversation and company.  In that moment a strong gust of wind simultaneously blew out our dinner candles and I noticed the windmill above the pond swing around facing into the north.  I had just made a comment as to how unusual that was when out of nowhere there was a giant flash of lightening and a deafening crash of thunder just to the north.  It was so loud it caused Nancy to jump up and run to the north side of the house where she immediately saw an explosion of fire about two-thirds of the way up the south grassy slope of Timber Butte.  Her alarming shouts caused me to join her and we watched in horror as fire, fueled by dry high winds swept across the upper slope of the mountain consuming nearly an acre in a matter of mere seconds. 

Nancy called 911 as I pulled on some heavy boots in preparation for a defensive fight.  Even as she spoke to the dispatcher we knew what we were observing was a hopeless case.  The timber was only several hundred feet above the rapidly spreading flames and they were heading directly for it.  I grabbed a shovel contemplating the steep assent towards what I knew would be a feeble attempt to arrest an inevitable disaster.  In our minds it was a complete loss until an amazing thing happened.  Out of nowhere one lone black cloud moved over the butte and the sky opened up.  It started to hail icy stones the size of marbles.  It came down so hard that we were forced to get under cover for safety sake.  Recognizing the miracle of the moment we both started to pray.  The noise was horrific as the hail stones pounded the metal barn and shed roofs causing us to pray even louder.

The hail miraculouly pounded the flames for five minutes

The hail miraculously pounded the flames for five minutes

The flames that at first seemed to be unaffected by the initial downpour slowly began to shrink back.  Little by little they lost their intensity and we continued to shout, “more Lord – don’t stop now Lord” as hope was rekindled in us.  For a minute I thought the hail would pass by allowing the flames to regain momentum again, but we kept praying until the last flicker of flame finally died away.  At that moment the hail turned off as if a giant heavenly valve slammed shut.  Honestly, it was amazing and nothing short of a miracle.

I grabbed my shovel and with Lily’s companionship started my climb on a full anniversary dinner wanting to be assured that there were no smoldering embers secretly waiting to reignite with the next gust of wind. 

When I had made my assent and arrived at the blackened scar I looked back down towards our home glad to see the Sweet volunteer fire truck pull up some five hundred feet below.  I knew then however that it would have been too late to save Timber Butte without the divine intervention of God.

It was an anniversary we will always remember.

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Entry # 31 – The price of becoming energy free

   Posted by: trobinson    in Energy

Using the wind & sun
Using the wind & sun

It was always our intention to build a home that was both energy efficient and somewhat independent from commercial outside energy sources.   Nancy and I had lived off of the grid for fourteen years on the old ranch, not by choice but because of its remote location and the unaffordable expense of bringing electrical power to it.  In those days the idea of using solar or wind power was not a viable option for us.  The technology had not yet been effectively developed to the point of being cost effective.  In addition to that, we lived on the shady side of the mountain and in tall trees that blocked the sun and the wind. We used propane for hot water, secondary heat, to fuel the gas refrigerator and for lighting.  We also used a back up generator for non-regular use providing 110 volt power for such things as a washing machine and running power tools.  I had rigged up a remote on/off button in the cabin so that Nancy could start and stop it as her needs demanded.  We also had an additional 12 volt system that could be charged when the generator was in operation.  The 12 volt system ran a stereo and a few night lights.   It all worked, but took a lot of ingenuity and maintenance to keep it functioning. 

When we designed the house at Timber Butte we purposefully placed it so that it had a full southern exposure.  Timber Butte also gets a good deal of consistent wind – perfect for solar panels and an electric wind turbine.  (We have a windmill that aerates our pond which operates most days – I will write about it another day.)   The point being, if you want to take advantage of alternative energy sources dependent on wind and sun you have to consider your location.  Because of our experience at the old ranch living on the shady side of the mountain, this was important to us.

Another thing to understand from the beginning is that free energy is not free.  The initial investment is in fact actually quite costly.   There are three reasons that Nancy and I have decided to pursue and incorporate alternative energy sources. 


  1. It is our intention that Timber Butte will be our last home.  We plan to spend the rest of our lives here and plan on living long enough to make our initial investments viable.  We figure that it will take ten to fifteen years to make these investments cost effective from strictly a financial point of view.  We figure that to make our home “net zero” (produce the same amount of energy that we consume), it will cost us somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000.  That’s a lot of money that could be used to pay a lot of power bills at today’s prices.  Most people see their houses not so much as a permanent dwelling place, but as investments to be sold for profit as the market allows, thus it is hard to justify this kind of extra expense.  We have decided to stay put and sink roots at Timber Butte as long as the Lord allows, so for us it is a viable investment.
  2. It is our dream to live sustainable lives.  If you read my entry #21 – [Five essentials for living a sustainable life], you would know that we have strategically been planning and working towards sustainability for many years.  Sustainable living encourages us to pursue ways of becoming less dependent on outside commercial energy sources.
  3. For us, the decision we made went far beyond economics.  I had written the book “Saving God’s Green Earth” (See links) about my Biblical conviction to do things to be a good steward of God’s creation.  Sometimes we have to make sacrifices simply because it’s the right thing to do.  By us investing in wind and sun power we are making a smaller footprint on a planet that must be preserved for future generations.  As a Christian I believe I must use less so that others might be blessed.

Although we haven’t been financially able to invest in a solar or wind electrical system as of yet, we did install the infrastructure to incorporate it into our power system during the construction of the house.  We have however installed a solar powered hot water system that has been amazingly effective.  I will share our experience with it and what we have discovered about it in a future entry.

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