I came out of the school last week, took a deep breath, and froze. A sweet, rich, almost cloying cinnamon and musk smell filled the air. Without realizing it I pivoted into the wind, searching for white smoke. Yep, you guessed it. I smelled a grass fire.
I did not see a smoke plume, or hear sirens, so the fire was not a problem for me at that moment. As I pulled onto the county road, I could see a faint brown tint against some of the clouds. That put the fire north and east, well away from town. We had very light winds, so it didn’t take a fire scientist to guess what was going on. We’ve got a lot of dry grass, and high winds are forecast for later this month, so someone was doing a controlled burn. Indeed, a small note appeared in the next day’s paper, announcing a series of burns on private and adjoining state land.
People not familiar with how the state divided up certain duties waaaay back in the 1900s do double takes when they see Texas Forest Service fire trucks in the Panhandle. Only Texas would be so silly as to have a Forest Service office in part of the state without any trees, right? Not exactly. The Forest Service coordinates rangeland and forest fire responses. (The Railroad Commission regulates oil production. Another early 20th century thing that made plenty of sense at the time and that lingers on as tradition.) So we see diluted blue-green heavy-duty pick-up based work trucks charging off toward plumes of white smoke, and we get out of the way. There’s less rush this time, because the winds are light and firefighters will be on site in case the flames misbehave.
People have teased me about carrying a broom and shovel in the bed of the truck when I head out into the back of beyond. Hey, if I’m the first on scene (by accident) of a ditch fire, I want to be able to do what’s needed while waiting for the pros to arrive. Trains, people tossing ciggy butts out the window, hot car exhaust and mufflers, there are even documented cases of dew refracting enough light to start really dry grass a blazing. Out here, everyone who knows the basics has a duty to help. Next time it might be your pasture, or the thicket by your house that catches fire.
And so the cycle goes on, and cinnamon in the wind on a breezy day sends people scrambling. Cinnamon on a calm day? Nothing to worry about. Probably. This time.