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All Points West: We couldn’t stop the fire
April 29, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
In my search for answers, I looked at the meaning of fire, and what it can do.

There are all sorts and manner of allusions, comparison, metaphors, and all point to fire being one of the most powerful forces of nature, and in many instances, the most dreaded. In my reasoning, it’s probably why hell is described as an eternal cauldron of flames.

My wife Lisa woke up early Wednesday morning, now a week and a half ago, to a loud “whoosh” as she described it, then the loud cracks and pops of a blaze. She yelled, fire, and when I finally awoke, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, it took a moment to comprehend what I was seeing. The wavering bright orange reflection in our living room’s picture window was there because gigantic flames were biting into our garage, Cleo Gering’s toolshed, and the open quonset. The larger building, we later discovered, was erected by Morton for roughly $4,200 in 1982. Not these days. The value of things is sentimental at best.

There wasn’t much we could do to salvage anything. Smoke rose up from our bright red 2001 Nissan Xterra parked just feet in front of the garage. I jumped in the driver seat, put the key into the ignition, and wondered for a brief second if there was the slightest chance the engine would blow. Fortunately, it growled to life. Shifting into reverse, I punched the accelerator. In near darkness, the nearly full moon’s glow provided the only light aside from the flames. I paused to observe how the glass had bubbled on the windshield.

There was no great catastrophic loss except to property, yet it was probably one of the greatest purges of assets in my life. If you have ever been witness to a blaze, up close and personal, you realize how quickly things can go up in flames. Then, just as quickly, it all falls to ash. Amid the shock, which sets in over several days, some profound thoughts passed through our heads as we tried to make sense of our attachment to things.

We immediately counted our blessings. It could have been worse. If the wind had been blowing, no doubt the main house would have been part of the pile. As it stood, even the humongous old Black Walnut Tree bending over the garage took the fire’s best licks, deciding life was better.

Aside from a little smoke inhalation, we were fine. Our dog Charley and three cats Spike, Bootsy, and Frankie, were all inside and stayed there during the ruckus. Dozens of Gering volunteer firefighters arrived in their trucks in an array of flashing lights and wailing sirens. Lisa and I counted the 12 minutes it took for them to arrive, second guessing ourselves, thinking more time had passed. From the time Lisa dialed 911, they must have moved with astounding speed – getting the alert, getting dressed, getting their bearings and donning their fire equipment. No one thinks about a fire breaking out on a remote farm south of Gering in the wee hours of the morning on any given day or night. But it happened. The firefighters doused the flames in mere minutes.

For Lisa, the meaning of what happened runs deep. Much of what was contained in the quonset was brought to Valley View Farm, one of the most beautiful sights on the planet, by her grandfather Cleo Gering, a direct descendent of one of the town’s founders, Martin Gering. If one really pays attention, a man’s possessions can tell a lot about him. They serve as a diary of sorts – the yellow 1968 Dodge pickup, the fishing poles and tackle box he stored in a separate hold he built special, along with a range of tools – socket wrench sets, chain saws, a sander, Mason jars filled with bolts and nails, newspapers commemorating historical moments, things he thought important enough to add a padlock to the door for security. The locked toolshed was also the place he kept his shotgun. However ordinary these objects may seem, they were Lisa’s connection to her grandpa, extensions of him, his memory.

These are some of the bonds we experience in life. But when a catastrophic fire rears its head, it is a reminder of how temporary our walk through life may be.

Now, we are on the road to recovery. As I write this, a salvage crew is starting to clear the charred rubble, and within it the remains of a long list of what we need to replace.

More importantly, we thank a community for the help and support: our closest neighbors Lester and Gloria Thompson for being there and helping to compile a list of objects contained in the buildings; Fr. Mark Selvey and the members of St. Franics Episcopal Church for their counsel, prayer and generosity; the Marquez and Betz families for their words of encouragement; Gem Construction; the City of Gering; State Farm; Winkler Electric and most importantly, the Gering Volunteer Fire Department, along with the Scottsbluff Fire Department who arrived on the scene too … There are many others.

In this time of making our lives whole again, Lisa and I mostly realize how, from the ashes we grow anew, in so many ways.
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