In October 2017, amid story after story about historic wildfires burning across the United States and Europe, a photograph appeared showing a house with a seemingly untouched green lawn surrounded by acres of charred land, along with the claim that the house had been spared from a wildfire thanks to the homeowner’s decisions to leave the sprinkler system running as they evacuated the area:
This image is real, but the accompanying caption does not tell the entire story. This picture was first posted to the Kansas National Guard Facebook page on 7 March 2017, along with several other images showing the view from four Blackhawk helicopters as they worked to suppress one of the biggest fires in Kansas history:
Four Kansas Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters continue helping with fire suppression in Reno County, Kansas, on March 7. On March 6 more than 33,000 gallons of water were dropped on the fire.
When Danielle Tajchman, the owner of the house, came across the Kansas National Guard’s photograph, she took to social media to add some context to the image. Tajchman said that she had been generously watering her grass for weeks to please her pet cows and that she left her sprinklers running when she evacuated her home as the fire approached:
I just came across this online, it’s my house!!! I honestly feel like we have our silly cows to thank! We have had our sprinklers running overtime for several weeks because the cows love eating our lawn and since we haven’t fixed the fence yet we figured with the nice weather we may as well try to grow them grass while they’re in there!
Although Tajchman may have left her sprinklers running during the wildfire, that was not the only source of water protecting her home. Dough Schmitt, the assistant fire chief of the Rile County Fire District, also commented on the Kansas National Guard photograph, explaining that a few of his firefighters had soaked down the property:
I am the assistant fire chief for Riley County Fire District #1 in Manhattan Kansas. I am very proud of my firefighters who stood strong as the fire raced up to them while they were protecting this house. They first checked the house to make sure nobody was still home then they soaked the house and the detached garage behind the house that isn’t surrounded by green grass. They left as the fire raced by heading to the next house they could find.
Tajchman confirmed this version of events in an 11 March 2017 article published on Kansas.com:
“We did not leave our house until 7:15 p.m. (Monday) and the video sent to us by a neighbor of our property burning was taken at 7:30 p.m.,” Tajchman wrote in an e-mail on Saturday.
“During that 15 minutes, God blessed us in the form of two Riley County firemen who showed up, made sure no one was in the home and then proceeded to soak everything they could in more water.
“Just as they ran out of water, the fire reached our back shed and they had to leave,” she wrote. “Upon reaching the end of our driveway, they set a back-burn in an attempt to stop the fire, which was successful for five minutes before jumping the road north of us.”
Tajchman acknowledged that her well-watered lawn and cows may have provided some resistance to the fire, but said that the firefighters were the true heroes of the story:
So sure, our silly cows and our wet lawn helped, but these two are the real heroes to whom we will be forever grateful.
We have been able to personally thank the men that saved our home (and cows and baby chicks).
Wenzl, Roy. “Heroic Firefighters Saved Her Home, Survivor Says.”
Kansas.com. 11 March 2017.
Wright, Pam. “Owners of Home Spared in Deadly Kansas Wildfire Have ‘Silly Cows to Thank.'”
Weather.com. 9 March 2017.