As I mentioned in my previous blog, the sawmill whistle woke me in the middle of one night. At first I heard it in my mind, like a dream. But then I woke, or Mom woke me. The whistle kept blowing and blowing, and Dad rushed out of the house to see if he could help. Mom, Ben (my younger brother), and I could see orange flames against the night sky, shooting high above the tree tops. The rest is a vague memory, so I asked Mom and Dad about it.
Mom (a native of Gihon Springs):
“When we woke in the middle of the night, I said, ‘They’re calling the men because something is wrong!’
“Your dad said, ‘It probably just went off [by accident].’
“I repeated, ‘No. They’re calling the men because something is wrong!’”
Dad: “It was about midnight when the sawmill whistle started going off. I thought, ‘Surely it’s not 6:00.’” That’s when the steam whistle usually went off—6 a.m. It was a steam whistle, like the ones on steam boats, operated by steam power. The mill, itself, was steam-powered. It had a huge fly-wheel that kept it in perpetual motion.
“Basically, I watched like everybody else because there was nothing we could do. The fire was too big.” There were about 75-100 people standing around, watching the fire. There were a half-a-dozen fire vehicles. It was the sawdust house that caught on fire.
The mill had a separate shed that housed the lumber. The fire fighters soaked it to keep it from catching on fire. Oil to keep the machinery working fueled the inferno. There was a 200-gallon propane tank with a pop-off valve that was nearby. The propane was used for various things but not to run the mill. “The propane tank kept going off when the pressure built up, making a sound like a cannon. Boom!”
With sirens going off, police cars, fire trucks…it was very loud. “You hate it for the folks. Men put out of work. Loss of money.” But saw mills are easy to catch on fire….