Ten Mile Fire
Perkins Road Ten Mile, Louisiana
The Wayfaring Stranger
Excerpts from Chapter 42: The Ten Mile Fire
Aunt Mollie and the Big Fire
Thursday, September 7, 2023
Yesterday, I drove through the devastation of the Ten Mile Fire, which burned 8,000 acres along the Rapides/Vernon Parish lines.
Ten Mile refers to the creek that winds its way across our section of the Piney Woods. Ten Mile Creek received its name because it is ten miles from Sugartown, the earliest settlement in Louisiana’s Neutral Strip.
The Ten Mile Fire burned for nearly a week among the vast acreages of pine plantations. It was a fire previously unseen in Louisiana as it raced through the crowns of large pines. It showed no respect for roads, dozer lanes, and even backfiring. It took on a life of its own before finally being contained.
I saw an equally amazing sight as I drove was how many homes were spared. This was partly due to surrounding pastures, but much of the credit goes to local fire departments who worked day and night keeping water on roofs and siding as the flying embers spread the fires.
As surveyed the destruction, I thought about Aunt Mollie, a fictional character in my first novel, The Wayfaring Stranger (2007).
In Chapter 42, the hero of the book, Joe Moore, rescues the widow Aunt Mollie Weeks from a raging fire in Ten Mile.
This account, from my imagination, takes place in 1849 in the same region where last week’s fire burned.
Here are excerpts from Chapter 42 of The Wayfaring Stranger on Aunt Mollie Weeks and the Big Fire.
Joe Moore studied Miz Girlie Perkins. “Are you still troubled about the weather?”
Miz Girlie knelt down, picked up a small handful of dust, smelled it, and tossed it into the wind, where it scattered. “That evil wind hasn’t slowed down one bit. If anything, it’s worse. I wouldn’t be so worried if the ground weren’t so dry.”
She swept her hand through the air as if by doing that, she could calm the wind or dampen the air.
“Joe, there weren’t one bit of dew last night—too much wind. Yes, I am still worried and can’t quite tell you exactly why.”
About two o’clock that afternoon, the settlers first smelled smoke. They couldn’t see it yet, but the strong wind drove a fire somewhere to the north.
The settlers have all gathered at Cherry Winche Creek to escape the coming fire:
“Does anyone know about Aunt Mollie Weeks? Did anyone see her?”
A look of fear spread across the crowd.
The Weeks homestead, where Aunt Mollie still lived alone, was isolated from the other settlers. It was down the creek, and no one had thought to check on her.
Everyone looked in the direction of towering smoke and could easily see the fire was headed straight for Aunt Mollie’s home. They knew it was too late to beat the fire to her. The fire was now between where they stood and her place.
However, one person wasn’t thinking—he was only reacting. Joe Moore was up in his saddle, spurring Dallas to wheel away from the crowd before anyone could react. They watched as he disappeared into the thick smoke.
Someone yelled, “Who was that idiot?”
Eli Clark blurted out, “That ain’t no idiot. That’s the Irishman Joe Moore, and he’s going to get Aunt Mollie Weeks!”
Joe Moore faces the fire head-on:
Joe could see the fire now. It was raging on both the ground as well as running wickedly high up in the crowns of the trees. He’d never imagined anything like this. A blazing inferno that seemed to be creating its own wind and energy as it consumed everything in its path. This was no normal woods fire.
Aunt Mollie Weeks, alone in her cabin, opens her Bible, puts a photo of her late husband Arch in her lap, and waits for the fire:
Just then, she heard feet on the porch and a horse snorting. She looked up as the door swung open and there through the smoke stood Joe Moore, the Irishman.
“Aunt Mollie, are you ready to go?”
“Well, I guess I am, Son. I was just getting ready to go be with Arch in Heaven, but it looks like you done gone and messed that up. So I guess I am ready to go—”
“Hurry, Ma’am, let ’s get out of here now.”
Joe Moore carried her out as she clutched the Bible and photograph. Aunt Mollie took one last look back at the house where she’d lived all of her life. Tears rolled down her cheeks as Joe lifted her up on the horse and they galloped away.
Neither glanced back as the flames engulfed the old home place on Cherry Winche Creek.
The Ten Mile community is gathered on the creek bank, awaiting the outcome of Joe Moore’s mad dash:
Folks who were gathered that day at the creek crossing still talk about when Joe Moore and Aunt Mollie burst through the smoking woods.
They were both singed, and Dallas was covered in black soot as they swung right through the crowd. Aunt Mollie was holding on for dear life and whooping loudly.
The story was repeated, added to, and became legendary among the Ten Milers.
Joe’s rescue of Aunt Mollie stopped any opposition to the Irishman’s acceptance into the Ten Mile community.
He was now a hero, and heroes are always welcome, even if they are an outsider, even in a place called Ten Mile.
You can read The Wayfaring Stranger here
You can read the entirety of Chapter 42 here.
I believe you’ll enjoy it. My two greatest critics: my wife DeDe Iles and my mother Mary Iles, both claim it’s still my best book. Read for yourself.