Fire 1951 to 2015

I was born under triple fire signs, Aries sun, Sagittarius moon, and Aries rising. I have so much fire in my life that it is no wonder that at three years old, playing with matches I caught my father’s cherished car on fire and burned it much of the way to the ground before the fire department could put the blaze out.

For me fire is a tool, from an oxygen acetylene torch I have owned for fifty years, propane oxygen mini torch in my jewelry studio, ceramic kiln, and arc and MIG welders. I’ve installed wood stoves in every building on our property. I use the lowly match to light my gas range and to burn ten foot tall slash piles. I even light incense sticks to confuse and ward off the spring invasion of mosquitoes. Fire is my life and so it should be that it is a friendly force for creation rather than destruction, most of time.

Once in a while it does get out of control more as a reminder to me of it awesome force than any possible destructive abilities it can be capable of.

Yesterday, for our first example, when the last rain of the season fell for twenty-four straight hours soaking any possibility of out of control fire, I lit a small pile of sticks at the bottom of our orchard to allow me to repair the deer fence. It smoldered for hours then finally caught and burned a small section of that pile. On my way down for lunch I raked more of the pile over the burning coals and again it smoldered until just before dark when I repeated the raking procedure knowing everything was so wet it would smoke all night and hopefully catch by morning. Yesterday on my way to my shop I raked the remaining sticks over onto the coals and went to work certain once again it would smoke for hours before it finally caught. From time to time smoke would waft into the barn reminding me that the fire was still working its way through the soggy sticks. At noon I walked out of my shop and the dinner plate size blaze I’d been working with for two days had jumped its perimeter and caught the forest duff. A one hundred foot patch of my beloved forest was ablaze. I raced over to the three hundred foot ring of fire and with nothing to work with but my feet I began stomping at the ring successfully extinguishing every place I stepped. I sprinted around stomping and with a stick I scattered the taller blazes into the burned out area. For twenty minutes I ran back and forth frantically pounding the forest floor to extinguish any upstarts, of which there were many, before I felt I could try and find a garden hose to drown the embers.

After I examined the evidence and it turned out that the only thing dry enough to catch was the one inch of duff on top of a foot of forest mulch and only in the areas where the sun had been able to penetrate the forest floor and dry that one inch.

Two years ago, mid summer, I lit my torch to burn out a shape in a quarter inch piece of steel. I turned off the torch and walked down to the house while the metal cooled.

Ten minutes later Barbara ran to the house yelling that there was a fire in my barn. I grabbed the only fire extinguisher I could get my hands on and sprinted up the hill. Sure enough at the back of the barn where I had just cut that steel, a blaze the size of a small car was merrily crackling away at one of my benches and melting five gallon plastic buckets in the process. I cracked the seal of the full fire extinguisher assured that it would make short work of the blaze. Disappointedly, the extinguisher the size of a coffee thermos lasted all of three seconds before it petered out. It did however slow the fire that was reaching the metal rafters high above our heads.

Barbara was hooking up a garden hose as I looked at my feet and sitting less than six inches from the blaze was a full five gallon plastic can of gas. As Barbara drug in the hose I picked up the can and walked it to safety feeling the hot plastic.

We had that fire out in ten minutes and I vowed to never again mix old rags and gasoline in my welding area.

Five years ago in late August around four in the afternoon I sat in my office happily typing away when my daughter drove up and began screaming that one heart stopping word, fire. I jumped up and raced down the stairs to the lower platform and looked just beyond our outdoor shower and the highly flammable cedar wall of our house was ablaze. Quick thinking and luck saved the day as a garden hose was already hooked up to a spigot at arms reach. I turned on the water and blasted the wall as I tore at the burning boards to allow water to get behind the wall. I was drowning the blaze, but for some reason the fire would not go out until I saw reason why. The water heater gas line had sprung a leak and caught fire and it was blowing a two foot long flame directly at the wall. I gave Karen the hose and ran for the propane tank to turn it off.

Once everything had calmed and we were left with a few scorched boards I looked carefully at the gas line. Whoever had installed the water heater twenty years before had neglected to snug down one of the gas fittings and it sat there finger tight for twenty years before it finally gave way. Had Karen pulled up thirty seconds later our house, all of our neighbors homes and who knows how many miles of forest would have been lost to yet another summer forest fire.

We had spent all summer of 1990, our first year in our Lazy Dog home, pulling out dead trees, fallen branches and cutting low limbs to make the otherwise neglected property a bit more fire safe. We drug each branch and stick, tree stumps and rotting trunks and piled them in the one open spot the size of a basketball court in an otherwise fully canopied climax forest where our future garden would be.

The slash pile was ten feet tall twenty feet wide and fifty feet long by the time the first rains began.

I had tarped the pile while the rains fell for days and as the weather calmed I pulled that tarp and lit one corner of that monstrous pile thinking it would take hours for the pile to catch then another few hours for it to burn to a pile of embers. I had hoses and shovels ready in case of any mishaps.

That pile was bone dry and that one little match lit the pile and it burned to cinders in twenty frightening minutes. Hundred foot tall tongues of flame leaped higher than the tree tops. Had there been even a slight breeze one of those tongues would have swung over and ignited the standing forest, but that day, at least for that twenty minutes, there wasn’t a hint of a breeze. The pile of embers glowed for the next three days.

Fire has been my friend. Even in situations where I wasn’t being as cautious as I should have been fire has always given me plenty of warning and I honor the gifts fire has given me.

One thought on “Fire 1951 to 2015

  1. Brian Hall

    These sound familiar. My experiences with fire have sometimes walked the fine line between “excitement” and fear. Its power is a good reminder that there are forces far greater than me.

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