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 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.