Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Fires


It’s mid-August and typical Texas August weather. Everything is hot and dry. When I walk through the dead grass it makes a crunchy sound. We’re under a Burn Ban here in Wood County. That always means one thing: the fire department is watching me.I don’t dare light a single match for my oven. Not a candle. Not even the wooden matches you use when you’ve smelled up the bathroom. Not me, at least. I’ve gotten a reputation around here.

When we bought this place it have never been inhabited that I know of. It was part of a larger piece of land and it doesn't look like there had ever been a house on it. Most folks in this part of the county have been on this land for generations. I have noticed that there’s mostly two families. If you’re black you are kin to the Pruitts and if you’re white you’re probably a Cobb.

For the first few years we didn’t have any equipment and came here to camp. It was cool to have your own private camp ground. Finally we had a place we could bring our girls to camp without having to make reservations for a campsite. We brought out an old Lawnboy mower and started clearing off a small piece of our 23 acres. We did this so many times we could have been a commercial for Lawnboy mowers. That mower did anything we asked it and lasted far longer that we thought it would. The place was so overgrown that we didn’t really know what we had. After our first year of clearing we discovered we had a creek.

I married one of the most obsessive compulsive engineers God ever created. And with a German heritage to boot. When Beaven built something we didn’t mess around. When it came time to deal with the creek he insisted on a bridge that would support a parade of elephants and last the ages. So we put down four 8X8 railroad ties to span the creek with 2X6 treated lumber as cross beams. Once we had this we could cross onto the larger side of our land and continue clearing.

I personally hate cedars. They’re some of the nastiest, prickly, water-sucking trees around. About the only thing they’re really good for is to provide shelter for birds and to burn in campfires. And even the campfires are an iffy proposition. Burning cedar logs put out a snap, crackle and pop that can be amusing at night but sometimes it will be an small explosion that send hot coals onto your clothes or body parts. I have many a sweatshirt or coat with a burn hole in it from the cedar. The cedars were the first trees to go. I wanted to make room for the few pines we had, to nourish them, love them and encourage their lives.

In the process of clearing out cedars one hot August summer I had a huge pile of dead cedars and decided the efficient thing would be to burn them. The mark of a good Girl Scout is being able to light a fire with one match and that day I was very proud of myself because it just went up like crazy with one match. While I was standing there congratulating myself on what a great Girl Scout I was I noticed the fire was spreading. I tried to stomp it out but the flames were too hot to get close enough. I never noticed before how much hotter a fire is when you're wearing shorts. My Girl Scout troop had only camped in the winter. There wasn’t much wind, which was fortunate. It wasn't spreading "like wildfire" at least. I ran to get Beaven.

I have noticed that Beaven’s response to most situations is to utilize the biggest tool he can find to fix the problem. So for this he got out our old Ford 8N tractor (a collectors item but not much on firefighting). I'm not sure what he thought it was going to do to help but he drove the tractor over the grassfire for a few times while I was beating out the flames nearest our neighbors pasture. Finally I went to call the fire department.

My map skills are the worst in the world. Anyone who has ever been anywhere with me can tell you that. Add this to being in a total state of panic and my directions on how to get to our house were useless. I finally agreed to meet them at the gas station about three miles away.

One they got to our house I was relieved to see they had a huge tank of water on the truck. There’s not exactly a fire hydrant in front of our house out here. They did pause at the edge of our bridge because they weren't sure if it would hold the fire truck. They stopped at the creek and said they couldn’t cross it. I told them it was sturdy bridge, that we had built it ourselves and his response was something like “Lady we have 2,000 gallons of water on this truck.” Then another fireman got out of the truck and looked under the bridge for a while and said it was worth a try. When they crossed safely , Beaven and I would have high-fived each other if our pasture wasn't burning up.

After the bridge test, the fire was a cakewalk. They drove around a little and sprayed water everywhere and it was out. They drove back across the bridge without a care. I made huge glasses of iced tea for everyone.

The interesting thing is that this grassfire gave out enough heat to germinate the pine seeds on the ground and ,years later now, we've ended up with a tiny little forest out of the deal.

The next fire was smaller and I almost got it out by myself. Again it was Old One-Match who got a fire going that spread faster than I could stomp it out. I ran into the house to get the fire extinguisher and Beaven looked up from his paper. "Nothing”, I told him, “I've got it under control.” By the time I gave up and called the fire department I just told them I'd meet them at the gas station this time. But you could see the flames from down the road so they might have been able to find it even without my directions.

Then the third time, I swear this one wasn't my fault. It was another hot and dry day. I was only mowing. Mowing. How can you start a fire while you're mowing, for God's sake? Beaven told me later after a long deliberation over whether he wanted to stay married to me; the red hot muffler on the riding mower had probably caught the tall dry grass on fire. Whatever. I was riding along minding my own business and all of a sudden I was in the middle of a circle of flames all around the mower. I jumped off before the thing exploded or whatever gas engines do when they catch fire. And this time I went straight to the phone. After a few sentences of explaining who I was and where I lived the dispatcher handed me the final insult, "Yeah, lady, we know where you live."

Now the reason Beaven says I've set fire to the place four times, not three, like there's any difference between the numbers, is that the guys had to come out a second time for this fire. This fire was on the opposite side of our first few fires and was close to the other neighbors. Where we are grass and meadow they are all old oaks and thick decaying underbrush. Once a fire gets in that kind of terrain there's no telling how long it can smolder only to burst into flames later.

We had sent the firemen home after another round of huge glasses of iced tea and more profuse thanks. We took some time to look at the mower. The wheels had melted so we decided to wait until the next day to tow it off. We had even gone in and had nice relaxing showers ourselves. We were about to go out to eat for a little celebratory post-fire dinner. It had become a tradition of sorts. We made one last check of the blackened pasture and off in the distance we saw the bright orange flames that can ruin dinner plans fast. This time the fire dept didn't mess around. They brought in a bulldozer and cut a dirt line that encompassed the fire and then some. I can't remember exactly if they did the helicopter with the bucket of water thing. You'd think I would remember a thing like that.

We get annual solicitations from the Winnsboro Volunteer Fire Dept for their fundraiser and we are huge contributors. They bought a new truck last year and I suspect we paid for most of it. I still get a knot in my stomach whenever I see the colors orange and black together. I have flashbacks every Halloweens.

3 comments:

dfward said...

more pics! I know you don't want to give away your location, but you've got some great pics too. I love love love that you did this, thank you

VLB said...

OHMYGOSH! I laughed out loud, and not just because I know you and Beaven, but because I can picture this happening!! Thanks for sharing with a far-away friend. Keep it up, and I'll keep on readin'....

anonmouz said...

I'm glad you picked my favorite funny story of yours. Who says you don't allow anon, comments?