Editor’s Note: Letters to the editor of small, local newspapers are the way many rural communities express their deepest concerns. Yes, sometimes that’s in the form of political opinion. But just as often, in our experience, the focus of those letters is gratitude for how the community has responded to a need or a crisis. Last week, the Canadian (Texas) Record, edited by Laurie Ezzell Brown, published three letters from readers thanking their neighbors for their help in dealing with catastrophic wildfires. The letters reveal the character of both the authors and the people of Hemphill County at their best – grateful, unified, resilient, and willing to lend a hand. Perhaps these letters will inspire you to write your own letter to your local editor.

The Fire Whistle

The Fire Whistle went off a couple of weeks ago. Again. That’s really no surprise, given that now we seem to have red flag/high-wind warnings on a daily basis. I was at a meeting, and a gentleman standing near me observed that, “They really should do away with that thing. Everybody has cellphones, so this is a totally unnecessary disruption of the public peace. It serves no purpose anymore.” 

Not knowing the man, I introduced myself and shared a brief story about tornado season and carrying my youngest infant daughter outside to check the clouds. When the whistle went off, it scared her nearly out of her diaper…or filled it. I can’t remember which, but she was upset. I soon found out that the gentleman was fairly new to Canadian. After some more small talk, we went our separate ways, but his comment followed me home. 

He was correct about firemen and cellphones and modern communications and the whistle, and yet … there was something … missing. And then, I found it … in the ashes of our guesthouse and our greenhouse and our garden and our neighbor’s house. Most people would say that the Fire Whistle has two functions: either it calls the volunteer firefighters to man their equipment, or it sounds a tornado warning. But it has a much deeper, much more important third function, and that’s what I found in the ashes. 

The Fire Whistle’s third function is to alert the entire community to a continuing or impending disaster that is affecting one of our neighbors. We may not know who, but someone is going to need … something. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s clothing. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s a shoulder to cry on. Maybe it’s hay or wire or T-posts. In our case, it was electricity and a place to stay. But someone is going to need something right now? 

That raucous, irritating sound reminds us all that we are the first responders and the first line of defense when disaster strikes. Waiting for someone from “the outside” to “handle things” is not a timely solution for anything short of a major catastrophe. The feds may declare our county a disaster area, but it’s our neighbors who will arrive with a tarp, some nails, and a casserole to help deal with that limb sticking out of the living room window. 

Diana and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we’ve received from our community. We are humbled, but we are not surprised because we knew our people heard the Fire Whistle. I hope my new friend hears it, too. 


(Photo by Lauri Ezell Brown/Canadian Record)

After the Fire 

It has been two weeks since the fire. Things are slowly greening up. We know it will take time, but we will recover.

We lost several outbuildings, a few head of cattle, and about 90 percent of our grassland. However, our house and horses were spared. Our family would like to thank you from the bottom of our heart. The many calls; texts; and offers to deliver food, provide hay, and of land in which to run our cattle were overwhelming and greatly appreciated. 

The Canadian VFD, the firefighters from the surrounding areas, Flap-Air Helicopter Service, and all the first responders are top-notch. We are so very grateful to them for their countless hours battling this blazing fire. Also, a big thank you to Matt Long for overnighting our horses in Wheeler; the Cooks and Coffees for trailering horses; linemen from North Plains Electric for getting us power ASAP; and Shawn Ehmann, Jason Pelham, Wade Lemons, Wes Avent, and J.D. Demeritt for fighting to save our house until the bitter end. 

We are so fortunate to live in and raise our kids in such a giving community. 


(Photo by Lauri Ezell Brown/Canadian Record)

Blessed with a Fire 

The sirens wailed, and we all reached for our scanners. Where’s it at?! Which way is the wind blowing?! Then an eerie call came over the radio. “Everyone come to Mendota road; this may be our only chance to make a stand.” Mendota road?! We thought. That’s right by our place!!

You never think that it’s going to be you that the fire consumes or the tornado destroys, but this time it was; it was ourselves and many others whose lives would be forever changed. At this point, we could talk about the loss and devastation our family experienced, but that wouldn’t do our situation justice. We didn’t suffer a loss; we shared a removal. 

Oftentimes, it take a catastrophe or death for people to realize what is truly important in life, set aside differences, and allow the Father’s healing power to mend wounds that we are unable to repair on our own. We, as a family, are grateful that we did not have to experience a catastrophe or death; we were blessed by fire. 

Words will never be able to contain the gratitude we have for all this community has done to support our family during this season. Your outpouring of love and blessings has been overwhelming at times, to say the least. 

To all those who have given and continue to give to ourselves and others affected by this fire, may the Lord bless you with abundance and overflow, making it possible for you to continue to give in times of need. 

To the volunteers on the fire department who bravely put themselves in danger to keep us safe, may the Lord guide you, protect you, and give you strength as you continue to serve our community and others in need. 

To those struggling with loss during this time, may God give you peace, and may you receive double what the fire has taken. 

Forever grateful, 

Jim and Becky Black
Amy, Kasey, Bo, Josh, Buck, Gunny, Snyder, Doc, and the cows.
Matthew 6:19-21

The Canadian Record has an article with information on relief efforts in Hemphill County, Texas.

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