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Tony Vagneur: A burning truck and galloping horses

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Just the other morning, in that half-light before full consciousness, there was a compelling need in my breast to get another fire extinguisher. What prompted that, I cannot say, but sometimes forebodings are precursors to real events.

Another fire extinguisher would have no doubt stayed in my house, so it wouldn’t have been much help when actually needed. But perhaps that notion will come alive again in my thoughts enough to make me accomplish the purchase.

The other day, a “blue bird” day, as we like to say, I loaded up a couple of horses, put some salt blocks in my trailer, and headed to the high country to scatter the salt and prepare for summer grazing season. Parking at the trailhead, I heard a commotion farther up the road, enough that after letting my dog out, I quickly reversed course and put him back in the truck.

What could be going on? I was about 100 yards from the action, my view blocked by leafed-out aspens, but it appeared a trailer of some sort had slipped off the road. Some horses were tied along the fence and it became clear — it was a horse trailer. The horses looked fine, everything must be under control, except being stuck.

But the excitement around the scene drew me in farther, and I walked up the creek a way to get a better view. Flames! Coming from the front of the truck. This was not good. Cell service can be very unreliable in that neighborhood, but fortunately my 911 call went immediately through. Fire truck is on the way.

A friend of mine was on the road above the truck, holding a fire extinguisher in his hand — it had been extinguished on the fire without much result. “Too hot to get very close.” Flames were shooting about 10 feet in the air by now.

What to do? The fires of hell staring you in the face, unlike Dante’s “Inferno,” but literally, and my gut hurt for the owner. That helpless feeling was beginning to shadow my shoulders and an age-old reminder clanged forward from my tangled brain cells — sometimes the best thing one can do is stay the hell out of the way.

I’ve witnessed more than one vehicle burn and there isn’t a whole lot one can do without the proper tools, like a fire truck. Occasionally, that premonition I’d had about getting another fire extinguisher hovered around my synapses and I made a mental note.

Walking back down to my truck and trailer, thinking I’d get on with the day once the fire truck arrived, I spotted the three horses at my gate, being managed by three children. Well, two children and one very grown-up young lady. Oh my, always look around the scene, and be aware of your surroundings.

Those kids were on a mission — taking care of the horses and it gave them a calm that one might find unusual in an emergency situation. When I opened the gate and asked them to bring the equines inside the pasture, next to where my trailer was, off the road and out of danger, they each grabbed a horse, not expecting help from me. The youngest must have been somewhere between 4 and 6. Their mother had gone back up to the truck to assist the sheriff’s deputy, who had just arrived.

Beautiful children, they each shared a bit of what they were feeling and what the loss of the truck might mean to them as a family. There’s not much to be said in a case like that, I reckon, other than attempt to acknowledge the situation and try to keep it light. The oldest daughter heard the whine of the fire truck siren and relief began to run high.

And as I later rode up the trail, a horse between my legs and another in tow, the contrast of the whole scene slapped me hard in a perplexing way. Both the truck owner and myself had arrived at our locations driving the latest technology in motorized vehicles, and yet, the most reliable transportation we had was our horses.

Either area where we were headed that day could only be accessed on horse or on foot, just like it’s been done in this area since the Utes traversed the valleys, and yet, there was tragedy on the road, a burned-up truck and a distraught family at the mercy of modern technology.

My heartfelt best wishes go out to that family.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.com.


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