A Great Day For a Grass Fire

Sunday was a great day for a grass fire.

No, not that kind of grass, although wildland fires can make your day go to pot.

It's that time of year. People get cabin fever, and at the drop of a match they're using any excuse to get outside, and fire is cool. (It's not really cool, it's hot. Just wanted to clarify.) Fence rows, weedy hills, brush piles, trash, unruly lawns, meth labs, unwanted relatives, whatever. And they inevitably say, if only to themselves, one of three things:

1. "What could possibly go wrong?"
     (A phrase that has become such a cliche that anyone who thinks it should automatically be horsewhipped. Do they still make horsewhips? Maybe in Amish country.)

2. "I'll be right back--this will only take a minute."
     (See above comment.)

3. "I've got it under control."

We once pulled up to a field fire that was burning around three sides of a house. When we knocked on the door to alert the occupants, this guy opened up and told us it was a controlled burn, and the fire department wasn't needed. He was wearing a towel.

     Yes, he'd been in the bathtub.

 This is not the definition of a controlled burn.

In northern Indiana, things don't get nearly as bad as out west--just bad enough. Wildland fire season (it's usually ground fires: fields or woods) lasts for a couple of months, from the time the snow melts until all the foliage greens up enough so it won't burn. We sometimes have another fire season in the fall, and if a drought strikes all bets are off. But the problem in the spring is that the ground is often still saturated from snow melt, so much so that even four wheel drive fire trucks can't go off road, which is fine if there's nothing off road that can be damaged or is, say, in the path of the fire. At the same time, people think "Hey--if the ground's so wet, the fire won't spread. I've got it under control!"

Meanwhile, one inch above that wet ground, anything that's been dead since last fall dries out after about an hour of sun and breeze. I've seen six foot flames burning over standing water in swamps. That's me on the other side, waiting on the shore for it to get to me ... I've seen all those SyFy movies with mutated alligators.

I'll be over here.

So I looked at the weather forecast last week and realized the next day would be perfect for what we call grass fires. (At least until they get to other stuff; then we call them house fires, barn fires, car fires, unwanted relative fires, whatever.) It would be a Sunday, sunny, with a temperature in the low fifties. There would be just enough of a breeze to spread fire, but not enough to make people worry about it. We're a small town volunteer fire department, and we still once made 17 calls in one day under those conditions.

Grass fires spreading to cars are pretty common. Boats, not so much ... but as you can see, it happens.

 So, instead of the pajama pants I usually wear around the house (days off equal writing time on the couch), I put on jeans--and socks, and since it was only in the low fifties, a sweatshirt. I put my shoes right in front of the couch. The keys were on the ledge by the front door, the car backed in to allow for a quick entrance, my pager on my belt. As busy as my life's been lately, it's probably the most prepared I've been for a call in ten years.

Then I listened, as surrounding departments started getting called out. Kendallville FD, grass fire; Cromwell FD, grass fire; Noble Township FD, grass fire; Avilla FD, grass fire; Ligonier FD, car-pedestrian accident.

Ah, the unexpected.

Also unexpected: The Albion Fire Department, with is 96 square mile, mostly rural response area, didn't get called out at all that day.

I'm thinking of renting myself out as a fire prevention tool. You pay me ahead of time, and I'll show up at your firehouse fully dressed, with my fire gear beside me, ready to accompany you to a fire at an instant's notice. Then, there will be no fire. I'll get money, your community will remain safe, and if nothing else I'll get some quality reading time. (I'm reading American Gods at the moment.)

What could possibly go wrong?

Just a grass fire? When crops like wheat catch on fire it does honest to goodness financial harm.

The aftermath. It was totally under control, then came the running and the panic and the 911 calls.

Tornado Siren Testing to Begin March 20

Tornado sirens around central Noble County will be tested next week as part of Indiana’s Severe Weather Preparedness Week, which runs from March 18-24.

In Albion the sirens will go off on Tuesday, March 20, to make sure they’ll work properly in case of severe weather. This will be part of a statewide test, which is done twice on the 20th: usually between 10-11 a.m., and between 6-10 p.m.

For the rest of the season the Albion Fire Department will test the sirens at around 6 p.m. the second and fourth Mondays of every month, unless threatening weather conditions exist at the time.

There are five tornado sirens positioned around Albion, plus one at Skinner Lake, and another at the campground at Chain O’ Lakes State Park. They provide one of several ways to alert citizens to unfavorable weather conditions. Everyone should be prepared to monitor conditions and seek shelter in the event of severe weather.

The sirens can be activated by Noble County Communications dispatchers, and also from the Albion fire station.

More information about Indiana Severe Weather and Flood Preparedness Week 2018 can be found here:


A few photos I've taken over the last several years:

Book Review: Shadow of Oz

Shadow of Oz
by Nick Damon

We all know Dorothy Gale of Kansas, although you probably imagine her as a teenage Judy Garland, while I picture her as a blonde eleven year old. (There were all these books, you see, and ... oh, never mind.)

In Shadow of Oz Dorothy is all grown up, and now a drone office worker in New York City (apparently in modern times, which would make her something like 125 years old, but never mind again). She's miserable and pretty much a zombie, and not in a fun way, when one day she gets attacked--by a tree. Then by a murder of crows bent on ... well, murder. Then she's rescued by a man of horseback ... who's made out of clay. The man, not the horse.

Dorothy Gale of Kansas, as illustrated by John R. Neil. I don't make this crap up.

Then things get exciting. It seems Dorothy, despite being an outsider, was once ruler of the land of Oz. In her absence the country has been conquered by an old enemy, and to save it she must find her way back, regain her memory, beat the bad guys, and recover a gem called the Ozma that's the heart of Oz, pretty much literally. She'll meet old friends along the way, but boy, do they have their work cut out for them.

Shadow of Oz benefits from a breakneck pace, Indiana Jones style, although it can also be exhausting. While I would have preferred to see more of the book characters I'm fond of, Damon wisely sticks to supporting characters from Baum's first three Oz books, all familiar to those who've watched the MGM version of The Wizard of Oz and Disney's Return to Oz. Many of the later characters have been forgotten by anyone who isn't familiar with the books, and would confuse the casual reader. But I'm going to put them in my own Oz book, anyway! (Baum's fourteen Oz books are in the public domain.)

It's nicely plotted and has some fantastic twists. (Shadow of Oz, not my Oz book--that's not written yet.) It can also be read as a standalone book, which is important to some readers, although there are sequels. Some of the fight scenes seem a little long, but you aren't likely to get bored. Overall the characterization is good, but a romance develops that's totally unreasonable considering the time factor involved. (Although, hey--these things happen in stressful situations.) There's a substantial amount of PG violence, and some stuff might be disturbing to the kiddies. Damon, I suspect, is trying to write for an adult audience while maintaining the wonder of the originals, but it comes off more gritty than wondrous.

Now, as a writer there are a few things that bothered me more than they're likely to bother the casual reader.  The story is very active, but there's a lot of passive voice--avoiding that has been drilled into me so much that it stood out. There was a bit too much more telling than showing. But there have been bestsellers that I have the same complaint about, so who am I to say? Overall, I think it's worth a read.


Courthouse Photography Mania

My wife says I take too many photos of the Noble County Courthouse in Albion, and she's absolutely right. But you see, I fuel up the car right across the street, and it's just ... sitting there ... looking all photogenic and everything, if a little lopsided from this angle ...

Even from the same angle, the weather and lighting can make the view very different.

On Writing: Dreaming Up a Story

Every now and then I have a dream that I can piece together into a decent story, given some time and elbow grease. The other day I didn't sleep well, and woke up twice in the middle of vivid dreams. In the first one, I was with a small group of people at an interstate rest stop when a tornado came by, just brushing the edge of the building. Everyone else hid intelligently in the basement (even though rest stops I've been in don't have basements) while I stood by the window, getting a pretty decent video of the twister as it spun by.

I've had these kind of storm chasing dreams before. The difference in this case is that I actually got some video; usually my camera breaks or goes dead, or something comes between me and the funnel, or otherwise I don't get a shot. Not really an idea to wrap a story around.

Not that I haven't turned storm chasing into stories before.

The second one was one of those dreams that was both vivid and had something of a plot. I woke up from it and lay there, wide awake and staring at the ceiling as my mind filled the blanks in. Then I ran downstairs to the laptop, and slammed out a story idea of about five hundred words complete with characters, setting, plot, and complications. Plus, our dog would be in it.

"Who? Me?"

Thank goodness I have a wife who understands writers.

Here's the thing: Although set in modern times, the story would be a supernatural fantasy. Just what I need ... another genre! That would be, what ... my sixth?

But the idea stuck with me so much that I was tempted to bypass other projects and go right to work on it. The only problem is, I was about halfway through the first draft of a Storm Chaser prequel, which I bragged about doing a year ago ... and I'd already put that aside to work on a new novel that I'm now editing, Fire On Mist Creek.

So ... it goes on my "to do" list, along with ideas for maybe two dozen more stories. Actually, a "to write" list. It has a ways to go before it outnumbers my "to read" list, but it's heading that way.

As most nights are.

Happy Anniversary, Emily

Happy anniversary to my lovely and hyper-smart wife Emily who, for reasons still not completely clear to me, has stuck around for six years. (See? I remembered! Or is it five?) Here's the blog I wrote about it a few years ago:


May you have a day of relaxation and happiness. And chocolate. Even my chocolate, because that's how much I love you.

Maybe I should run her a bath and make her a nice meal. Or, since I want her to have a great day, buy her a nice meal.

50 Authors from 50 States: Amy Reade Loves the Islands of Aloha

50 Authors from 50 States: Amy Reade Loves the Islands of Aloha:     The Hawaiian Archipelago (called “Ka Pae ‘Aina O Hawai’i Nei” in Hawaiian) consists of eight major inlands and almost 125 reefs, s...

Movie Review: Black Panther

I almost skipped "Black Panther" when I started hearing the initial reviews. "social awareness"; "responsibilities of a nation"; "the superhero film we need now"; "politically aware".


As an information junkie, I'm overwhelmingly aware of news, politics, issues, and both the best and worst of human nature. My wife is constantly telling me to let it go and do something relaxing, which is darned good advice. I go to superhero movies for relaxation. Not necessarily mindless, but fun, funny, action-oriented entertainment where the good guys are mostly good and the bad guys are mostly bad

If you're a comic book fan you're already protesting, but hold that thought.

Granted that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never shied away from serious issues, but they're usually good at mixing them with, you know, entertainment. Would "Black Panther" sacrifice being a good movie in favor of an agenda?

No. No, it wouldn't, and I would be very happy indeed to go see it again tomorrow. So relax ... besides, it's not like there aren't some people who could stand to up their awareness levels.

If it seems like I'm spending half my review addressing the political and social issues, hey--so do most of the other reviews. But I'm a casual moviegoer, so let's get on with the entertainment part.

The entertainment part is awesome.

You might remember that during "Captain America: Civil War", the king of the small African country of Wakanda was killed, leading to the reveal of his son, the legendary Black Panther. Say, that must be where the movie's name came from! In "Black Panther" T'Challa (Chadwick Bosemen, fantastic) returns to Wakanda to be crowned the new king, to replace his dead father.

Things don't go as planned.

T'Challa faces challenges from within his own family, and from a previously seen outside villain who's out to get his hands on the rare metal that makes Wakanda rich and technologically advanced. Wakanda has hidden those riches from the rest of the world, which brings out a major question when a ghost from the previous king's past returns: should Wakanda continue to protect itself, or use its advancements to help the rest of the world?

Which brings me back to where I started, because you really can't tell that story without addressing today's world problems. And that's okay, because despite what I said above, comics and superhero movies have been addressing social issues almost from the beginning. My fear that "Black Panther" would tilt too far in the other direction was unfounded: We still have a well made, entertaining, action packed, and occasionally humorous movie, just as we've come to expect from Marvel.

There were occasions when the digital effects were a little obvious, but overall "Black Panther" is beautiful to watch, with a gripping story. There are fewer than usual shout-outs to the Marvel universe:. Andy Serkis returns as the villainous Ulysses Klaue, and Martin Freeman reprises his CIA agent Everett K. Ross. There are two other cameos (come on, you know who one of them is), including one at the end of the credits.

Michael B. Jordan almost steals the movie as Erik Killmonger. In the tradition of great Marvel villains he's over the top, vicious, and ... has a point, just like another Marvel Erik, from the mutant side.

The rest of the cast is awesome and perfectly cast, especially Danai Gurira as the general of the Wakanda army, Angela Bassett as T'Challa's still grieving mother, and Letitia Wright as T'Challa's sister Shuri, who's the Q to Black Panther's James Bond.

My score:
Entertainment Value: 4 M&M's. No, it's not the best Marvel superhero movie I've ever seen; but it's one of the best.
Oscar Potential: 3 M&M's. The Academy loves to ignore superhero movies ... but they're going to have a hard time ignoring this one.