Grace Miller



Submitted by B. Vance


Grace Miller was only 13 years old at the time terror and tragedy swept
through their beloved Mud River Valley. She could easily re-call the
detail of this all too vivid day when she wrote me this account in 1982.


This is her story:


“It was the last day of school in June, 1932. As we left for school that
morning we saw smoke boiling up in the southwest direction. The
lighthearted feeling that accompanies the last day of school overshadowed
any fear of fire and even when we left the school in the early afternoon
we had no idea it would amount to any more than a bush fire.”

“The strong afternoon wind fanned the fire and soon it was whipped down
the valley and later in the afternoon the little log school house was
completely ravaged. This was no mere bush fire now but a conflagration
of terror. Farm after farm was consumed in its insatiable path. I can
still remember watching awe-struck when the farm next to ours went up in
flames. Their buildings were all constructed of logs and as the hot, red
flames driven by the high wind, devoured those buildings you could see the
log frame standing in the middle of the red flames and then slowly, slowly
they would crumble.”

“Our place was next! We lived just a quarter of a mile away and by now
we could feel the heat and the thick, suffocating smoke was drifting our
way.

Our horses panicked! No time for us to panic as Dad and Mom kept us
working fast and hard trying to take precautions to save some of our
necessities and also our buildings. We drove the panicky horses across
the river and rushed back to work on the water-bucket brigade. Our farm
building were logs chinked with moss and being old everything was
tinder dry. Mom even dumped buckets of milk on the house when the heat
of the fire dried up Dodd Creek. Even with all that fervent effort
sparks from the fast approaching disaster would fly and start new little
fires in the moss-chinking. We then had to use burlap sacks soaked in
water to flog the new fires out. Mom was very good at staying calm and
organizing things. Suddenly, Mom’s urgently voice rang out, “Grace! Come
help me with this trunk!” Mom was struggling with the wooden, iron
strapped trunk that she brought from North Dakota in 1911. (The last leg
of that journey was aboard the BX Paddlewheeler on the Fraser River to
Fort George, BC).

In this trunk were precious treasures of her Mother and Father, including
a large Bible that her Father had given her when she was only one year
old. Together, we managed to get the trunk and a few other personal
possessions, such as pictures and important papers, into the underground
root cellar.


“Through-out this intense activity Dad and Mom were sick with worry.
Miss Richards, our school teacher, who boarded with us, was not home yet!
As we were feverishly trying to soak the teacher’s log cabin and carrying
some of her things out into the yard, Miss Richard came home just before
the fire actually struck our place. Our valiant effort to save Miss.
Richards personal belongings were in vain as the flying sparks ignited her
things and they all went up in flames.”


“Now the time had come to run for our lives! Mom asked me to take the 3
youngest children (John – age 11, Ruth – age 9 and Louise – age 2) and
go with Miss. Richards across the Mud River. It was shallow enough for
us to wade and of course we were used to it because that was our swimming hole
but poor Miss. Richards didn’t enjoy wading in the icy water running over
slippery stones and oozy mud. She knew she had no choice and that it would
be safe on the other side, so she tried to keep her long dress from
getting too wet as we clamored up the other side and reached out to help
her up the slippery bank of the river.”


“We felt fortunate compared to many others in the Valley because we only
lost a hay shed and cow barn. We still had a roof over our heads!”

“A valley that was beautiful and lush green now lay desolate and black.
We saw poor little singed rabbits running around that were scared silly.
It was a terrible destruction of wildlife and personal property.
Thankfully no human life was lost!”

============

Ruth Miller's memory of this day..1932


Ruth was only nine years old when the fire swept down the Mud River Valley
in 1932. She begins her memories of the fire:
“My first teacher was Miss. Richards. Miss Richards was our teacher for
four years. It was her last year on the last day of school that the fire
swept down the valley.

The wind was high and the ash was falling all around us as we walked the
mile and a half home from school. It was very scary as the smoke was
very dense and the light was coming through the smoke. We had watched
the fire for many days and somehow no one seemed to think it would break
through into a wild fire and burn us out.


When we arrived home we were met with Mom and Dad preparing for the
worst. Dad kept telling Mom, “Don’t get excited! Dodd Creek is right there and
the fire won’t jump the creek.” as he ran around in great anxious
excitement! Mom finally got him to chase the cow and horses across the
river and move the car out from under the big trees. We all helped Mom
pack anything that could be saved and put it in the root cellar. Dad
moved the harnesses and whatever and things he could carry out into the
open away from the buildings. Tom was away visiting friends and Mamie
was writing her high school exams in Prince George, so that left only us
younger ones to try and help. Louise was very young (2) so when the fire
go nearer Mother gave her to me and told me to down to the garden where
she thought we would be safe. There I was with a baby in my arms and the
burning trees falling all around and the straw mulch around the
strawberries burning. I couldn’t see our house from the garden but I
saw the neighbor’s house and barns catch fire, stand glowing for awhile and
then fall. Louise was screaming in terror and so was I.

The school teacher made it home just minutes before the fire broke through
to our place. She was elderly so Mom sent her down to the garden to be
with me. When she saw all the burning going on where I was, she
persuaded Grace and Johnie to come across the river with us. (Mom had to
insist that Grace go, as she wanted to stay and help)
That left Mom and Dad alone. The heat of the fire was drying up the
creek so the only thing Mom had to fight fire with was the milk and cream.
She did a good job too because she managed to save the house and the
teacher’s cabin. Dad and the boys had hauled straw all spring so there
was plenty of that burn along with the hay shed, the cow barn, the tool
shed, chicken houses and the incubator house. Next door was a big hay
field with the shoulder high and green as grass. That burned as if it
was dry straw and the air was full of big sheets of flame as it ignited
and burned. Big patches of pasture across the river were burning all
around us too.

When it was all over and we were sitting there happy to have survived,
someone looked out and saw the whole front of the root cellar was in
flames so we nearly lost all the things we tried to save.
The fire hit our place late enough that day so the evening dampness helped
slow the fire down and ours was the last place burned.

-----end of Ruth's account---

===================================

I let my Grandfather Miller read Grace’s letter about ‘the fire’ with the
hopes he would tell me a little more from his perspective.


Here is what he said:


“Its just as Grace says.”
Then after quietly thinking a few minutes and all the time slowly rocking
in his rocking chair he adds:

“At first the fire was heading away from the Valley. Then all of a sudden a big high wind came up and turned it absolutely around and in less
than an hour it was upon us. It came down over the hill by the school,
it just missed Andy’s building but it burned the school and farms between the
school and our place.”


He paused and rocked; staring as if looking back to that day of terror,
“Yep, its just as Grace says.”
And the he continued:

“Things got so bad toward the last that Mother (he always affectionately
called his wife “Mother”) gathered up the kids and sent them and Miss
Richards across the river into the field and we drove our one cow and two
horses across the river too. I don’t remember what happened to the
chickens (they were free range chickens), probably found refuge
themselves. At that time I took the old Model T down to the garden.
The fire didn’t jump the river but the heat did. We had about 5 acres of
timothy and it just turned it brown like straw but it never ignited.”

“After the kids left, Mother and I were so busy packing water from Dodd
Creek but the Creek was just about dry so we had to go to a hole just this
side of the bridge about 300 yards away from the house. We had to run
that distance with two buckets each. Sometimes the smoke was so bad I
had to lay right on the ground and crawl. Its odd we didn’t get overcome
with smoke.”


“That fire and wind was so bad! I had all kinds of straw around the hay
shed and some of that packed straw went up in the air and ended up in
Sinclairs yard, 10 miles away, believer it or not! Big patches of
charcoaled straw lit right in his backyard.”


“We saved two buildings by packing water and soaking them but we lost six
buildings, all our hay and a valuable stand of timber. Then just as
quick--- the wind turned and headed up the hill – up to an old burn on
top and itstarted to rain. That is the only thing that saved the timber on the
hills. The whole ordeal was over in about ¾ of an hour. It was just that
fast. We couldn’t have stood it any longer! It was some mess to clean
up!”


Grampa Miller paused and rocked in his chair thinking about that dreadful
day he said again,

“Yep, its just as Grace said.”