Fire and Romance in the Mountains
by Elsie Lenton Corwin

Forest fires in the mountains are "unwelcome thrills” and can be very disatrous as everyone well knows. Thousands of acres of beautiful trees, that took centuries to grow, can burn to the ground over nite. After that has happened when the winter rains come there is no hillside growth to hold the water and the floods can be terrible, rushing down the canyon, washing out homes and' creating great damage and loss. And when the tree and other growth on the hills burn the homes of animals and birds are ruined too. Birds must fly to other forests to nest, deer and squirrels and skunks, even mice and snakes must run away to find shade and shelter. Sometimes they can't even run fast enough and far enough to keep ahead of the fire and are trapped in it.

But, Mother Loomis told me about a fire that wasn't at all disastrous. Of course this was a very small fire which didn't really do any damage to the forest as it turned out in the end, although no one knew when it was first “spotted” that it would be small. Nor did anyone know what a change it would make in the lives of the Loomis family, most especially in Anna Loomis, the youngest and as yet unmarried daughter's life. .

The first experience with fire came in 1914, a year after this pioneering family had come to these mountains to make a new home. Captain Loomis was coming down trail toward home, bringing supplies on a string pack burros - seventyfive of them. Everything, food, clothing, lumber and furniture was carried down the narrow trail on pack burros. There were twelve Loomis burros. For big hauls they hired extra pack animals in charge of a "packer”. Can you imagine what it would look like now to look up the road and see seventyfive burros, loaded with lumber, chairs, beds, long pipes, stoves, huge packs of food and other supplies? And they had only a narrow, steep, often dangerous trail, no road like we have now.

Did you know that the reason the burros and mules can safely pack heavy loads, in steep, percarious places is because they carefully feel out a safe place to step and at the same time balance their loads with each front foot and then their hind feet step into the very same track made by the front feet.

Well, the Captain looking over the canyon as he came around a. curve in the trail, suddenly “spotted" a fire clear across the canyon near the mines! Instantly the cry came down from the road - so everyone could hear. "Fire at the Mine!" Everything was stopped and everyone grabbed a shovel and literally ran those two miles up the steep hillside to the mines. Even the Captain and the packer in charge of the burros! And the burros were left to wander all over the hillsides! I never did hear how they finally caught them all, that must have been some task!

Anyhow - all hands, in short order, got the fire under control. It turned out to be just a small fire that had started in an old dead log, that had been hit by lightning. Lightning strikes are quite common following a thunderstorm in the mountains, and often start small fires. Of course, any fire, however small, must be put out as fast as possible to prevent setting the whole forest ablaze. For this purpose there are lookout towers on the high mountain peaks, where United States rangers constantly keep watch over the hills and valleys with high powered binoculars. Nowadays fire can be reported over the 'phone in the Hogan and fire trucks or plances hurry to the spot, but in 1914 there was no 'phone and no road so fire safety depended only on everyone watching and helping.

Well - there is more to this story! One evening, about four days after the fire had been spotted, five United States Rangers came riding on horses down the trail to the Loomis ranch. These were the first rangers ever to ride to the ranch from Chiloa. By that time they knew the fire was under control, but the rangers stayed on anyway "just in case”, says Mother Loomis. I expect they enjoyed her famous biscuits and chicken so much that they felt that even a small fire, almost out, in an old log, needed five government rangers to watch it!

And do you know after that, one of those rangers, Norman Ross, seemed to feel it was necessary to check the fire situation at Loomis ranch quite frequently. However, the family soon found out that it was Anna, rather than the ranch that was getting the young ranger's attention. A few months later in September of that same year, Anna and Norman were married and Anna moved out of the canyon to live with her new husband.

Before long, the Loomis ranch became a gatering place for children and grandchildren and finally great grandchildren, not to mention the numerous friends, just as it was when we "found it” in 1952. It didn't need any fires after that to draw people down the trail to visit this hospitable family in their beautiful secluded valley.

[Source: The True Loomis Stories by Elsie Lenton Corwin, Wandalee Thompson Collection (2006.38.1)]