“Can you see where that smoke is coming from? It seems awfully close. I wonder what’s burning?”
“Could be just a brush fire.”
“It’s not that close. It just seems that way.”
“Yeah! Could be somewhere around … our … Oh, no!”
It was our 13th wedding anniversary. Because of other commitments that evening, we had decided to celebrate with a fancy restaurant lunch and include our five children in the festivities. We had barely ordered our meal when one of the children had spotted the smoke and our spirit of celebration was all but ruined. We tried to tell each other that it just couldn’t be anywhere near our home and thus somehow got through the lunch. But that was about it. Hurriedly we scampered into our car and started the drive home.
It was only about ten miles, but what a long distance it seemed to be. The closer to the smoke we came, the more worried we got. It sure looked like it was coming from our neighborhood. I can still remember the fear and anxiety reflected on each face during that drive.
We lived in southern California, where after a dry summer terrible fires were rather commonplace. Our home was situated near the top of the hill, and the road leading to our home ran higher on top. In back of the house and down the hill were thousands of acres of grassy undeveloped land with some clusters of trees here and there. The grass that summer had grown high and then, due to a lack of rain, had died and dried standing up. Somehow that grass had caught on fire.
As we arrived home the police and a couple of fire trucks were already positioned on the road up the hill. The wind was toward us, and the fire was advancing with unbelievable speed.
I whispered a quick prayer, “Dear God, save our home.”
It is interesting to see what a person thinks important and valuable when faced with the fact that there is just a small pickup truck in the driveway with which to haul his prized possessions to safety. In our case, sentimentality played a bigger role than monetary value. The family records came first, and the only piece of furniture we even thought of bothering with was my great-grandparents’ untunable piano. The girls, with their selected valuables, were sent off with a ward member, but our 11-year-old twin boys stayed around placing wet blankets on the top of the roof and keeping them wet.
There were only a few houses on that hill, all some distance from one another. We started, as did all our neighbors, to clear away the dry grass and the shrubbery surrounding our property. It seemed like useless work, but we had to do something; we couldn’t just stand there waiting.
“Dear God, save our home.”
The fire was getting closer, and the place was getting hotter. And we were becoming newsworthy! The cameras were whirring away, and we were being interviewed for the evening news.
“How does it feel to wait for your home to burn down?”
“It might not burn.”
“Yeah, well, tell us how you feel right now.”
The police had long since cut off all the traffic to our area. Only the people living there and close relatives were admitted. Suddenly a station wagon full of men from our ward arrived. They were all anxious to help, and we were grateful for their concern. Then other elders started to come. We knew about the roadblock and wondered how these good men had been able to come through.
“Brother Ellett,” I said to one of them, “how did you get past the police?”
“That was easy,” he chuckled. “I just told them that my brother lives there!” That seemed to be the way all the other brethren had come through the roadblock.
A few minutes later, while the elders were still pouring in, one young policeman came walking down the driveway.
“I came to see the man,” he said, “who has so many brothers.”
I went out to the patio and counted all the men from our ward that I could see. I counted 39. Thirty-nine brothers!
Thirty-nine priesthood holders, I thought. There they were fighting the fire with every possible means they could lay their hands on. They fought it with shovels, with hoes, with rakes, and even with sticks. And right then and there I realized that they had even stronger power than those few helpless tools in their possession. Great feelings of peace filled my soul. I knew then as surely as I have ever known anything that no fire could get through that line of fire fighters.
Anybody who has ever seen a group of full-grown trees, or even one of them, explode with fire will know how scary such a thing is, especially when seen at close quarters. There I stood watching the flames that seemed to lick the sky, and still I knew that I and all that was mine were safe from that raging inferno. The peace and calmness that filled my being is something I will never be able to fully describe. I was so grateful, oh, so grateful for my membership in the Church and for the knowledge I had. Tears running down my cheeks, I thanked the Lord, not so much for the material things he would preserve, but for the spiritual things nothing can destroy.
Somebody had bulldozed a big gully between the burnt area and us. The TV cameras were whirring “happily” in all this commotion, recording what to them was news. The bulldozed area would not have been wide enough to stop the fire if something else had not happened suddenly. The wind that had all the time blown briskly toward us turned unexpectedly and completely and began to blow now in the direction of the already burnt area. The fight was now easier, and the fire never crossed the bulldozed area to our home.
“My brother lives there,” they had said.
My brother! I felt then stronger than ever before the bond that ties us together in the Church. I felt it loving and caring for my family. We are not alone. We have one another.
Often, when I travel at night and see a light in the distance all by itself, I wonder who might live there. And then I remember, and this thought comes to me like a flash, “My brother lives there!”