Fire on the Friscos
Margaret “Meg” Scott walked quickly down the long pen-bordered drive. Turning, she looked back up at the big stone ranch house that was the headquarters of the Arrow S horse farm. She was a pretty girl with brown hair and eyes.
She entered a big pasture full of horses and caught a little filly that was black as night.
“Come on, Black Magic.” She put a lead on the filly’s neck and tugged it gently.They went back to the tack room. As she was saddling up, a young boy of about fourteen came up leading a prancing bay colt with four white feet.
“Boots and I are going riding too, Sis,” he said.
“Okay, Jack,” Meg replied.
They started off toward the towering peaks above the ranch, following a narrow road that wound up the lower hills. “It surely looks clear this morning, doesn’t it, Blackie? You could almost touch the old Friscos up there.”
A few minutes more, they came to a gate. Just as she jumped off to open it, a young man in a green Forest Ranger uniform stepped forward. “I’m sorry but the forest is closed now because of the fire danger, miss.”
“Thank you, sir. I guess that means we have to turn around. I’m Meg Scott from the Arrow S down the hill and this is my brother Jack. We ride up here a lot. Who are you?”
“I’m Ron Bradley, one of the district rangers. Thank you for cooperating with the closure.”
After that they turned and rode back toward the ranch.
Later that afternoon two rough looking cowboys came down off the hills past the ranch. Meg stopped them.
“Don’t you know the forest is closed? You didn’t go past the fence, did you?”
“We don’t pay no attention to that kind of stuff. We can ride wherever we want to,” one said. He tossed the butt of his cigarette close to her feet as they spurred their horses and galloped off.
By late that evening, the smell of smoke was heavy at the ranch. By the next morning, they could see the fire, burning fast and hot.
About eight thirty, Ron Bradley came down the road. He was galloping his big bay horse. He reined in at the yard gate. Jack dashed out to see what he wanted.
“Get down and come in,” Jack offered. Ron shook his head.
“I don’t have time. I just needed to see if we can get water here for the fire fighters.”
Mr. Scott had come out to hear what was going on. “You sure can,” he said. “We’ll leave the gate open to the big tank. Help yourselves. The kids told me about the guys who came by yesterday. We wonder if they might have started the fire, dropping a cigarette or even on purpose.”
Right then it was more urgent to contain and put out the fire than to worry about who had started it but Ron said they’d check back later on that.
For a week and a half, the fire raged but they got it contained and finally put out. It never threatened the Scotts but they worried for a few days. They all helped as much as they could. Mrs. Scott cooked extra food for the fire fighters, Mr. Scott loaned tools and horses and Meg and Jack rode back and forth to carry messages since the phone at the ranch was the main communication for the crews. They soon became good friends with Ron and some of the others.
In the end almost 10,000 acres of beautiful forest was destroyed, timber, brush and grass all burned to ash. The evening after the fire was declared safely out, four men came to the ranch. They were Carl Markham, the chief forester and Joe Anderson, chief of the firefighters, Ted Lovell, the local sheriff and Ron Bradley. After they praised and thanked the Scotts for their generous help. they announced the fire was definitely man-caused and asked the family if they had any clues as to who might have done it.
Meg and Jack remembered the scruffy cowboys and their rude attitude. They gave the rangers and officers the best description they could remember. One had ridden a buckskin horse and the other had called him Sam as they started off. That one had ridden a gray with a brand from down the valley. Jack added that both men had been smoking and Meg told how they were scoffing at the “forest closed” signs.
“We’ll be on the lookout for those guys,” the sheriff assured before they left.
A week later the newspaper told how Jed Crowley and Sam White had been arrested and would soon go on trial for arson, having either accidentally or deliberately caused the fire. The Scott family went to witness the trial but were soon more involved in it..
Much to her surprise, Meg was called as a witness. The courtroom was silent as she took the oath and sat down. She told her story in a clear voice and answered the lawyers’ questions calmly. Nothing could shake her statement.
The jury did not take long to decide the two men were guilty and both received harsh sentences.
That evening Ron came out to the ranch again. He and Meg went for a walk. They reached a hilltop overlooking the valley and stopped to enjoy the sunset.
“We need a smart girl like you in the Forest Service,” Ron said.
“How do I go about getting hired?”
He laughed. “Just take this ring and I’ll get an application and help you fill it out.” He sounded half serious and half in fun, but when Meg held her hand out, he slipped a small gold band over her finger.
She drew a deep breath as she looked at the ring. “Isn’t twenty-one too young to think about serious choices like a career and getting engaged or married?”
“Twenty-one is a very good age to do that,” Ron replied, a twinkle in his eye. “Especially if a person is very wise and mature for her age.”
“What the Forest Service really needs is more good men like Carl Markham and you,” Meg returned.
“But we went to get women involved too,” Ron said. Then he kissed her.
Hand in hand, they turned and went back down to the ranch. The Scott family was a little surprised but soon agreed that this was a good step for everyone. Jack ran around delighted, yelling, “Wow, I’m going to be the brother of a forest ranger. Wahoo!”