USA — N.L. Winter says that in his 106 years on the rolling plains of West Texas, he has never seen anything like the fires of the past week.
The man known to friends and family as “Boss” saw three of the homes where he has lived burn in a vast wildfire that spread across his ranch and parts of four counties north of Abilene.
“It is the worst fire I’ve ever seen,” he told the Abilene Reporter-News.
Among the places reduced to ashes was the half-dugout where he was born on April 30, 1905. Five years later, his father built a two-room house about a half-mile away. That’s gone now, too. So is the house where Boss and his late first wife, Leta, raised their three children.
“He’s cried a few tears,” said daughter Betty Rash Whigham, 81, of Abilene.
Gladys Winter, Boss’ 99-year-old second wife who married the lifelong cowboy in 1991, lost the home where she lived for 46 years.
“It was devastating,” she said.
The houses, all unoccupied, were among eight buildings that burned on Boss’ 1,400-acre Winter Estate ranch that burned in what the Texas Forest Service had named the Swenson Fire. That fire blackened 162 square miles of rolling plains about 50 miles northwest of Abilene and 170 miles west of Fort Worth.
Boss says he remembers the day in 1910 when, at age 5, his family moved into the two-room house. His chin quivered as he used two canes to move up close to its ruins.
“It stood right where he put it until last week,” he said. “When I see this, I think about home sweet home.”
Boss still likes a chew of tobacco, saying that he started sneaking chew from his father when he was 4.
“He kept it in-between the mattresses to keep it moist,” he said. “I’d slip in there and get me a little chew while he was out.”
Although this week has been the worst, Boss Winter is no stranger to drought.
When he was 13 in 1918, a drought forced his father and him to drive their horses and cattle about 110 miles to the northwest to near Palo Duro Canyon on the High Plains. He remembers the covered wagon they used to get there and the tent in which they lived.