'The Prairie Fire'


Editor's note: One day Percy spots a prairie fire racing toward the homestead. After unhitching the oxen, Old Tim and Frank, young Percy helps his parents battle the blaze.

The smell of smoke was stronger now. When Percy and his father reached the barn, they found Maud bolting around in her stall. Father tried to quiet the mare as he led her out into the yard. She danced nervously while he hitched her to the flat stoneboat. Quickly he led the horse to the rain barrel beside the house. Father heaved the barrel, heavy with rainwater, onto the stoneboat and thrust an empty pail into Percy's hands.

"You and Maud will have to guard the haystacks and the buildings," Father said. "If sparks land here, douse them with water. Mother and I'll go to the fireguard and put out any sparks that land there."

"Don't go!" Percy cried, hanging onto his father's arm. Percy hung his head. "I'm afraid of the fire," he whispered.

His father hugged Percy tight to his chest. And his mother kissed him. But there was no time to waste. Gathering up all the gunnysacks they could find, his parents ran out to the fireguard. Percy and the horse were left alone in the yard.

Showers of sparks sailed over the fireguard and dropped into the barnyard.

"Come on Maud!" In the flickering red light of the fire, Percy pulled Maud over to the sparks. Sometimes the smoke was so thick and the air so hot that he could scarcely breathe. But he led Maud around the yard, pulling the rain barrel to places where the sparks landed and dousing them with his pail of water.

Maud started. She began to kick, and the precious barrel of rainwater rocked back and forth on the stoneboat. Maud screamed, and for the first time in his life, Percy was afraid of her. He tried to calm the mare, but Maud reared high above him. Water sloshed out of the rain barrel, and the horse's reins swung out of Percy's reach.

"Dad! Dad, help me!" he shouted. Through the smoke he could see his parents against the orange sky, beating out the sparks. He could hear them shouting to each other. But in the noise of the fire they couldn't hear him.

Maud kept twisting her head away. At last Percy ran to the barn. He came back with his arms full of hay and laid it before the rearing horse.

At the sight of hay, Maud quieted. She bent her head and took a mouthful. With trembling fingers, Percy undid the buttons of his old cotton shirt and pulled it off his shoulders. As the mare ate, he tied the shirt across her eyes like a bandage.

Percy grabbed the reins and pulled the blindfolded horse toward the small fires that had started up in the farmyard.

Back and forth they went, from haystacks to the barn and to the sod house. Back and forth until there were fewer and fewer fires to put out.

At last there were none. With a rush of hot air the prairie fire passed by the homestead.

Percy's mother and father came through the smoke and staggered, coughing, into the farmyard. Their eyes were red and their faces and clothes black with charred grass and soot. When they saw Percy through the haze, they ran to him, and the family clung together in the smoking yard.

"Do you think Old Jim and Frank are all right?" Percy asked, anxiously.

Father put his arm around Percy's shoulders. "They had plenty of time to reach the slough, and they probably waded out into the water where the fire couldn't reach them. I think I'll walk down to the slough and drive them back to the barn."

Father looked down at Percy and smiled. "It's a job for two men. Why don't you come with me, Son? I'll need your help."

From THE PRAIRIE FIRE by Marilynn Reynolds. Text copyright c 1999 by Marilynn Reynolds. Illustrations copyright c 1999 by Don Kilby. Reprinted by permission of Orca Book Publishers. All rights reserved.

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