Smith Mountain Lake Mystery Writer

Contemplations from a quiet cove on Smith Mountain Lake.

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Location: United States

I'm a Southern gal who loves life, my husband and our family (which, to date, includes 13 grandchildren). I enjoy being with friends and family. But I also like being alone and thinking up plots for future books. I've published two novels, both mysteries, and I'm working on my third. For more about my books, visit me at If you ever hear me say, "I'm bored," please get me to the ER immediately! Paddling my kayak and snapping pictures of the critters I see relaxes me. Beach music has the opposite effect--when I hear those old "doo-wops" I want to dance.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fire on Smith Mountain

“Do those clouds over the mountain look strange to you?” hubby Ron asked as he stared out the sliding glass doors overlooking the lake and Smith Mountain. “Compare them to the snow-white clouds high in the sky.” I agreed. The clouds weren’t normal the afternoon of February 10, 2008.

Side by side we watched the clouds rising from behind the mountain change to a copper color accented with dark gray puffs. After a few minutes we realized those weren’t normal clouds. They weren’t clouds at all. Smith Mountain was covered in smoke. Our mountain was burning.

Ron called 911 to report the fire and learned that the fire had started in Pittsylvania County. We live in Bedford County; the fire had jumped the upper end of Leesville Lake just below Smith Mountain Dam. As more smoke billowed from the mountain, we stood mesmerized and watched. We had plans for the evening, but we refused to leave our dog and our home. Even though I’d already made a delicious appetizer to take, I cancelled plans for a covered dish dinner with good friends in Lynchburg.

Birds, many of them sea gulls, darted frantically across the sky. The great blue heron who lives in our cove squawked his displeasure. I worried about the deer, bear, fox, and yes, even the pesky squirrels, whose lives were in peril. Funny, but the buzzards seemed to enjoy the drama; they circled and rode the wind above the smoke in their never-ending quest for food.

In the early evening we had a notice to evacuate. What do you pack? Do you empty the safe and its important documents, load them into your car? Of course. Do you pack every picture you’ve saved for your entire life, pictures of family, friends, beloved animals? Of course. Prescriptions? Yes. The floppy disk with the manuscript for my second book? Absolutely. Also included was my address file of friends and business associates, accounting records, my calendar. And of course we had to pack at least two changes of clothes. I put our dog Angus’ leash, food and bowl by the front door; I’d not leave without my canine sweetheart. And what about the computers, treasured books, cook books? I stuck my friend Becky Mushko’s book that I’d borrowed in my evacuation bag. And what happens to the cans of gasoline you’ve earmarked for the weed eater, the lawn mower and/or leaf blower, the generator? If you leave them, will they explode, add fuel to the fire? I wanted to move the entire house. Except for the gasoline.

Hallelujah! We didn’t have to evacuate at that time. But we still weren’t safe. Waiting and praying, we sat, staring into the darkness at the ridge across the water. Around 10:30 Sunday night the first actual flames crossed the mountain ridge. Quickly they gobbled up trees as they raced up the trunks and exploded in the tree tops. I started calling neighbors to prepare them to evacuate.

Fire fighters should be treated as angels. For hours we’d watched through binoculars the drama on the mountain ridge as these brave men and women fought back the flames. I clapped and screamed for joy when five minutes later they killed the flaming hot spot we’d just seen as it had crossed the top of Smith Mountain. Bless them—and I’m serious about that. I’ve ridden and walked the ridge on Smith Mountain. The trail is rough even for a 4-wheeler; eventually one must tread on his/her feet. I'm afraid of the dark. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to fight a roaring fire in rough terrain at night with heavy winds blowing and the temperatures in the twenties.

At 1:30 a.m. Monday morning, we set our alarm to get us up every two hours to check on the fire. The night passed uneventfully and we both felt better. Monday afternoon it looked as though flames would once again breach the ridge. Both of us sat, looking across at the mountain, fully expecting to evacuate. And then the helicopter came. The pilot made a minimum of 20 water drops on the hot spots. I have no clue how he could see through the thick smoke, but evidently he knew what he was doing. We felt much better about our situation, but still set the alarm for two-hour intervals on Monday night.

I think, pray, and hope that the freezing rain we had late Tuesday and most of the day on Wednesday made a critical difference in our smouldering fire and the other devastating fires in our area. And to all fire fighters who helped protect our forests, our property and us--thank you. You often put your lives in danger for the public, and I appreciate and respect all of you. Thank you.