HOT SPRINGS, South Dakota — When the fires began, most grabbed their photographs and ran. One 46-year-old man decided to dodge the embers to save his dog. They both were trapped in his house and died. One 75-year-old man, who could have passed for an older Henry Fonda, was smoking outside the shelter. He said trees were exploding around him as his son drove him down the mountain. Firefighters had yelled at him to "get the hell out" ... and he did.
Just off of Highway 18, Brent and Laurel Nelson watched from the porch of their ranch house as the billows of smoke turned from white to dark gray. The fire was huge and it was headed their way; it filled the sky just beyond the ridge overlooking their valley. Dark gray smoke clouds meant the flames were eating up their trees — already, three-fourths of their 10,000 acre ranch was blackened. On their cell phones, they took an offer from a neighboring rancher to let them keep their 400 head of Angus cattle on his pasture so they would have grass ... and "no, they didn't want to sell off the herd to save the trouble of feeding them." They already did that in years before during the drought. They had to stay over that time, since their heifers have healthy babies. The tiny black calves dot the fields below the fire like Easter eggs.
The night before, a stranger named Jerry had fought in the dark to keep the flames from roaring over the ridge. If their ranch house is saved, they're going to name that piece of mountain "Jerry's Ridge."
Carol McKinley is a reporter for FOX News Channel