Stopping a Prairie Fire on a Nebraska Homestead

Woman of the family plows buffer strip and burns fire guard to stop an advancing prairie fire on a Nebraska homestead.

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My father was away from our Holt County, Nebraska, home when Mother saw the large billowing cloud of smoke to the north. It could mean only one thing – prairie fire!

Perhaps the most effective way to combat grass prairie fire is to burn a fire guard, that means burning a strip ahead of the oncoming flames. A border, such as a furrow, is required on the leeward side.

Mother acted quickly. She and my brother Eban, 11 years old, harnessed the horses and hooked the team to the plow. With Eban driving the team and Mother holding the plow handles, a single furrow was, started. It was to be the salvation of our buildings and the tons of hay in the stack.

When she had run the plow for 100 yards or so, she came back and instructed my brother Merle, 9 years old, to set a fire at the side of the furrow, on the north side in the direction of the burning prairie. I had orders to keep my sister and the baby well back from the operation.

Mother and my brothers continued plowing and setting back-fires for about a mile, until they met a group doing the same thing. In the meantime, another group coming from the other direction had arrived at Mother's starting point.

The barrier had burned 50 to 60 feet wide when the big fire

arrived. It burned out.

My father came in with one of the fire-fighting groups. He called all together for a prayer. Then all were served coffee. Loud cheers arose from the crowd for my mother, the heroine of the day.

Carl W. Moss
Denver, Colorado

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.