James Richmond's
California Story

California Wild Fire

July 12, 1860 Today I went for a stroll , taking my gun for company, was wandering around in the lute grass, which grows ten or twelve feet high and ripens up in the fall. Cattle browse it, hogs have regular roads around in it. Hogs love the roots which look like small onions, and of a sweetish taste. Rabbits, ducks, and all kinds of wild birds inhabit it. It is sometimes set fire by hunters accidentally and sometimes fired purposely to give new growth a chance as it makes better feed.

I came near being trapped by a fire, which would have left me roasted if I had not had two matches in my pocket. I was not in the habit of carrying them with me but that morning I had been using some at the house and dropped some in my pocket. It was providential for me at any rate.

I was walking along when I noticed ducks were whizzing along through the air over my head. Rabbits too were darting by me. I began to smell smoke. I reached a small hillock and looking back saw a fire coming like a racehorse not a half a mile away. I knew I couldn’t get away, before it overtook me. For a moment I was dazed. My first though was "Oh, for some matches." It was so unusual for me to have them around that I did not remember that I had dropped two or three in my pocket. It was a great relief to my mind when I realized the fact I knew I was saved.

It did not take long to strike a fire ahead of me. I soon had fire ahead and behind me. The wind was bringing up the rear fire and taking the head fire away from me. So I followed the headlight and soon had the satisfaction of seeing a strip of land cleared between me and the rear fire which came on like a demon. I had lots of company, such as it was, cattle, hogs and rabbits but I had not heart to fire on the poor things. They were nearly smothered with the heat and smoke as well as I.

I followed the headlight as close as possible but it seemed me that the head fire did not travel as fast as the rear . About two miles of travel took me out and I was thankful to escape. I was nearly smothered with heat and smoke. I smelled like a smoked herring.