One fire and the story of two ranchers

The Sawmill Fire through Guy Atchley's lens

It's not a good feeling to wake up in the morning and realize your whole life could change, depending on which way the wind blows.

But that was exactly the scenario in Sonoita yesterday as two ranchers watched a wall of flames move across some of the most beautiful grasslands anywhere.

When the Sawmill fire jumped Highway 83, burning guardrails as it did, the ranchers in its path prepared for the worst.

Doc Clyne was a volunteer firefighter in his younger days and knows what can happen.

But he's not about to leave the ranch that's been a part of him for 57 years.

That's why he allowed his cattle to chew down the area around the old ranch house making it what they call firewise.

Then, into the old truck and off to watch the flames approaching his ranch.

From an overlook, beer in hand, Clyne settles in for the long haul.

If the wind blows east, it'll take his pastureland. If it blows south, the  Empire/Sands Ranch will bear the brunt.

In fact, the cowboys of the Empire/Sands joined Doc Clyne on his land to watch.

Among them, the owner of the Empire/Sands, Ian Tomlinson, who described himself as heartbroken.

The wind blew south and so the flames.

Overtaking ridge after ridge, charcoaling pristine grasslands.

Tomlinson estimates 40-thousand acres gone.

And now, he'll have to decide how to feed up to one thousand heads of cattle.

Hundreds may have to be moved to ranches in other states -- a costly proposition.

The cowboys root for the firefighters and their aerial assault.

The pasture may be gone, but now there are houses to save along Loop Road.

The slurry-bomb battle from the air is unrelenting. Air tankers flying low to make sure every drop of water counts.

In the canyons and on the ridges with helicopters to pinpoint hotspots.

All afternoon, wind versus water.

Until finally, sunset and the fire quiets for the night.

And two ranchers can forage a smile. One can sleep well.

The other and his cowboys have cattle to move.

Until the next time nature blows in and makes their lives... interesting.

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