On the 19th of August, 1910, I accompanied my husband,...
On the 19th of August, 1910, I accompanied my husband, who with two assistants left our home in Wallace, Idaho, to visit a placer mining property, the last thirty miles of our journey being made with a pack-train over steep mountain trails. Our destination was reached the following evening about seven o'clock, the pack-train starting immediately on its return trip. There were great fires in the forests, but we were advised that there were none nearer than twenty miles, and as there was very little wind we thought we would be safe. As the evening came on, however, the sky became red in the distance, and on the following day the smoke grew so thick that we could not see each other without a light. This blackness continued until about five o'clock in the afternoon, when the sky became lurid in all directions. Four men were at the camp when we arrived, and all said that there was no danger; but we thought there was something to meet, and accordingly went to our tent and read the Lesson-Sermon. We also read many times the Ninety-first Psalm, and other chapters of the Bible which appealed to us as especially helpful. We knew that God was there with us, and that we could not be separated from Him even for an instant.
By five o' clock the wind had increased to a gale and ashes were falling fast; shortly the wind became very hot and we could hear a tremendous roaring and crashing as the fire and wind felled the trees. Some of the men came to us and said we had not a moment to lose, and the two prospectors who had already gone to bed were awakened. They dressed hastily, and we all started up the steep mountain, choosing the side with the least timber on it, for it grew very abudantly over this region. One of the men had told us of a flat about a mile and a half up the mountain, and it was our aim to reach this if possible. We left everything except a Navajo blanket, thinking it might be needed on the summit, where we expected we would be obliged to stay until morning. By this time the wind was a hurricane; the trees were crashing in every direction, many being uprooted before burning. Aside from ourselves only one of the party knew anything of Christian Science; his parents were loyal Scientists and he had been helped many times. I spoke to him, telling him to remember that God is our Life, and that divine Love would surely take care of us. The fear that came over me as we started up the mountain was indescribable. I could scarcely breathe and seemed to lose all strength, but I kept declaring that God was there and that He was omnipotent; therefore evil was powerless. A great fear that I might be a burden to the others seized me, and then I declared that God's children could not burden each other, that we were all made in His image and therefore I had as much strength as the others. I began to grow stronger at once, and then came clearly to my thought the promise, "My presence shall go with thee." That was the last of the fear, and there came a wonderful quietness and sense of peace.
We were obliged almost to bury our faces in the earth every few minutes to get a breath, and this with the great wind hindered our progress very much. When about one third of the way up the mountain the fire rushed up the gulch where our camp was located and leaped like lightning up the mountain on either side, coming up like a great wall behind us and on the other side of the gulch. It seemed as though the whole world was on fire. We started to run up the mountain, but had gone only a little way when we saw the flames leap over from the summit and start down, oh, so fast! Then there came a great shower of fire, of twigs, bark, and moss all ablaze, and in an instant everything around us that could burn was ablaze. Both of us had been working vigorously though silently, but now we fairly shouted the truth above the roar of the flames, declaring that as God is Spirit His children are spiritual; that we lived and had our being in God, and therefore God must be consumed before His children could be; that the mountains were His, and that because God is, evil is not.
We shouted the story of the men in the fiery furnace to those with us, telling them that the same God was with us and that He would save us. We told them of Moses and the Red sea, and that God could roll back the flames as He did the sea; told them many of the beautiful promises in the Bible and that God never failed. Our thoughts were so clear that we neither trembled nor felt afraid; the confusion was all without. We were running here and there wherever the flames seemed the least, beating out the fire on our clothing and never ceasing for an instant our declaration of the truth. We clung to divine Love with all our strength, and shouted the words of our Leader's hymn,—
Shepherd, show me how to go,
O'er the hillside steep,—
and although we could not see the answer we knew God knew the way, which was all that was necessary. At last we were where to mortal sense it was only a question of a moment and we could not go any farther except into a blazing wall. We then declared that we did not need to go anywhere, that God could save us right there as well as He could anywhere. I shouted to my husband that no matter what seemed to happen, we would be faithful to the last breath to the truth we knew, and he shouted in return that we surely would.
Then we dropped down again to get a breath, and instantly there was a cool breeze enfolding us all. The men began to thank God for it, and we told them that God had answered our prayer and was giving us strength. The fire closed in on us again and we jumped to our feet, and right back down the mountain through the fire we both saw a narrow path about a hundred feet long, and we ran down it with the others close behind. We then found ourselves in a little green spot, and as we dropped down again for a breath the same cool breeze came to strengthen us. In a moment the fire again came upon us, and again we saw the little path and ran as before, and found another little green place and the same cool breeze. It was as if some one was bathing us in pure cool water, till again the fire drove us on; but this time the little path led us into a large place untouched by the fire, which is still to be seen on the mountain. We were safe here. When we had reached this place one of those with us said, "It was your prayer that saved us," and his statement was immediately confirmed by the others. Right there, in this place encircled by fire, we had a testimonial meeting, for I told them where we had learned to pray, that Mrs. Eddy had taught us through the Christian Science textbook, and how we had learned that God is not in a far-off heaven but always at hand, the ever-present Life, Truth, and Love.
All of our party except one reached this place of safety. Just before the worst of the fire struck us, this one had insisted on rushing on ahead toward the flat, though we all begged him to keep with us; he was found about a hundred feet from where he left us. The heat had been so intense that candles melted in our pockets. We lay down here on the mountain-side, it being after eleven o'clock (the fire had overtaken us about a quarter to eight), and waited for daylight, which came about half past four in the morning, when we started down the mountain, guessing as near as we could the direction of our burned camp, and arriving there about six o'clock. Everything had been destroyed, only ashes remaining, but we had a delicious drink of water from the little stream and started on our long walk to find food and shelter. The trail had been almost obliterated by the fire, and walking was extremely difficult owing to the fallen timber, much of which was still burning, and to the ashes, which were still hot. We walked fifteen miles, going over a summit of several thousand feet altitude, and at half past seven that evening we arrived at a placer mining camp, where we were cared for in the best possible manner.
We stayed there all night and the next day were driven to the railroad. Although badly burned and our eyes much swollen and inflamed (my husband was unable to open his eyes until about three hours before reaching this camp), yet there was no pain except now and then from the eyes, and by bedtime we could both see well. We had inhaled great quantities of smoke and fine ashes, and this affected the throat and lungs so that we coughed a great deal for several days, but with the help of a dear Christian Science friend this was entirely overcome in a few days and we have had no after effects from our trying experience. The others were not scorched as badly, as they kept their coats over their heads most of the time.
To say that we were thankful for this great proof of God's love and care for those who trust Him, does not in any way express our gratitude, for we know that had it not been for the understanding of the Bible which we had gained through our regular daily study of the Christian Science text-book, there would have been eight instead of one found on the mountain-side after the fire had passed over it. We were not tired at all that night when we arrived at this camp,—just filled with joy, because we had proved that "God is a very present help in trouble." I remember, when we were struggling up the mountain, how these words of Mrs. Eddy helped me, "Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need" (Science and Health, p. 494 ), and I thought of the many proofs we had had of the truth of this statement. Since God was with us, we could trust Him to do everything for us. Our part was to stand firmly in the good we knew and never to waver for an instant. This testimony is given with the hope that some one who reads it may thereby gain courage to stand firm in God's strength in time of need, for there is no power apart from God.
Isabel M. Pattison, Wallace, Idaho.