Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Big Roaring Fire

Yesterday's blog references about our propane tank brought back memories of an event that shall never be forgotten in our family. Actually it can't be forgotten because I won't let it. Some things are just worth bringing up time and time again.

When we first moved into our house back in 1991 there were very few houses around us. Our house is situated on the corner of two streets and we have a neighbor behind us and one to the right of us. Originally the house to the right was not there. It was just a big empty field, overgrown with weeds, bushes, and trees.

The property and the house we bought was owned by my sister and her husband. At one point we discussed building a home on the vacant lot but eventually decided that financially it would be better for us to move into the house that was already built.  And so, we bought our little home, standing on just under 3/4 of an acre.

The area immediately around our home was kept neat and trim - meaning Dale cut the grass and I planted flowers in front of the house and by the mailbox. It usually took him around three hours to mow the lawn (with a push mower, we were too poor to buy a riding mower) and it would have taken longer had it not been for the plethora of trees surrounding us. And by trees, I mean mostly big tall pine trees and very few hardwoods.

When it came to the empty lot next door we were under no obligation to keep it up, however on occasion Dale would mow the grass closest to the street.  As for the rest, it was left a-la-natural.

It didn't take long before we discovered that this vacant land was an excellent dumping ground. No, we did not park abandoned cars there, nor was there trash or other unsightly stuff cluttering up the yard. It was however, an excellent spot for dumping grass clippings, pine straw, leaves, and fallen limbs. And it came to pass, as we cleaned and groomed our yard, all unwanted foliage was tossed in the lot.

During the early 90s we had several ice storms.

Ice storms can be a real nuisance. Not only do they cause chaos on the roads but they also reek havoc on trees and electrical wires. It doesn't take much to create a coating of ice glaze that weighs everything down and before you know it, SNAP! POP! and CRACKLE! (yes I know that looks out of order but we're not talking about cereal here) Snap! A tree limb comes off a tree.

Pop! It hits the ground. (for the bigger limps, it's bigger than a pop, more like a THUD!)

Crackle! is the sound of electrical wires pulling loose from the poles, causing transformers to explode. I should also note here that, along with the crackle, comes a flash of light. Scary I'm tellin' ya!

Believe me, they're all sights and sounds that create an atmosphere of fear and trepidation. Nothing is worse than lying in bed, hearing those sounds of winter, and wondering "will the electricity go out?" "will the next limb hit the house? "will the next limb really be an entire tree?" "will my car be flattened?"  And, those thoughts don't stop with daylight. As long as there is ice and cold, any of the above happen.

As mentioned, in the course of a couple of years we had several ice storms. (all of the above photos came from one storm in 1992)After the storm is over and everything begins to dry out, phase two begins...CLEANUP.  When it came to clean up the biggest nightmare for most people was what to do with all the mess. We were lucky because our answer could be found right next door ... the big empty lot. All we had to do was gather up the fallen limbs and toss them into a pile.

After awhile the pile began to grow. And it grew and it grew. And while the property was technically not part of our yard it really bothered my husband to look out and see it. Not because he felt guilty that it was OUR mess over there, he simply hated the way it looked to people driving by. At least that was what he said. Looking back now, I know he was using it as an excuse.

After a couple of years and several ice storms Dale finally decided that it was time to get rid of what had become known as “The Pile.”

Now this pile was no small thing. It was taller than my husband, who measures in around 6'1", and the width was probably close to 10 feet. Yes, over the years“The Pile” had continually experienced growth. And by growth I mean in size/depth/whatever, NOT that it was growing in life (except for one small exception, see pumpkin miracle below).

Just so you get the picture here,  IT . WAS . DEAD.  Dead wood. Dead pine needles. Dead grass. Dead leaves. And yes, even dead pumpkins; pumpkins that grew from seeds that came from rotting pumpkins that had been tossed on the pile, seeds that sprouted and grew into pumpkins that were never harvested and ended up DEAD.

How does one go about getting rid of a pile of dead stuff? Speak to any group of men and 99.9% of them will say BURN IT! Yes, it is a know fact that MALES love to make fires. It goes way back to the beginning of time when cavemen wandered the earth and will probably continue on until the second coming.

Women on the other hand, we're not so crazy about fires. I'm not talking about fires in the fireplace, a place to cozy up to with a good book and a glass of wine, or a campfire for roasting marshmallows and making s'mores. I'm talking about fires made just for the purpose of burning stuff.  I don't get it, never have, never will. I am in fact quite afraid of fire. I think a lot of the fear comes from common sense, that and the fact that during my second year of college we experienced not one, not two, but THREE fires on my dorm hall. So yes, I have a natural and perfectly legitimate fear of fire.

I guess by now you've figured out where this story is going. Dale decided that “The Pile” must be burned. There are some battles you just know you can't win and I knew this was one of them. I warned him to take the necessary precautions and then gathered up my children and hid in the opposite end of the house. I figured if things went south I could throw the boys in the car and high-tail it out of dodge.

Meanwhile, Dale doubled the length of the yard hose and stretched it across our yard into the lot next door. I find it necessary to mention here that at this time we had horrible water pressure; the further one got from the main line at the street, the less flow you would get. Taking this into consideration he decided that he would include a  large outdoor trashcan filled with water as part of his water arsenal.

At this point I feel it is necessary to reiterate ... “The Pile” was, for the most part, made up of tree limbs and pine straw. Let me emphasize DEAD tree limbs and DEAD pine straw. Hmmmmm, I wonder how well that will burn?

And then, my beloved husband took a match, lit some crumpled newspaper and threw it on “The Pile.”
He also lit a few places along the bottom of  “The Pile” and the “The Pile”  began to burn. The fire quickly devoured the dead pine straw and in a flash spread throughout “The Pile.”

And then POOF!

Several years worth of dry tender went up.  Flames were shooting high in the sky. I'm sure airplanes flying into Briscoe field were seeing it as a beacon for landing. I swear the flames were at least 75 feet high, Dale disagrees. All I know is that people driving down the road stopped and stared. If cells phones had been as plentiful as they are now I'm sure there would have been several calls to 911.

And there stood my husband with his hose MISTING  the fire, because you know..... there was NO water pressure to create a good stream of water. And besides, who wants to douse a roaring fire? Let's not forget his standby trashcan of know the kind made by Rubbermade? Oh yeah, that baby began to melt! And yes, I kept that trashcan, it will stand forever as a reminder of the day Dale burned  “The Pile.”

And me? I'm running back and forth wringing my hands and asking "Should we call the fire department?" "Do I need to take the kids and run?" "What were you thinking?" And finally..."what is wrong with your arms and your eyebrows? Oh my gosh you've singed the hair on your body!"

Now that is some intense heat!

And, you know what? That fire burned for 300 days.

Not really but it sure seemed like it. It did burn all day and for almost a week afterwards you could look outside and see hot embers glowing in the dark of night. For awhile I lived in terror that the wind would blow and start it all up again. Fortunately it did not.

Once I got up the courage to get close to the spot where “The Pile” once stood I could feel the heat and for a fleeting moment thought about roasting marshmallows.

And then I looked up....................and around.

I think I forgot to mention that surrounding the perimeter of  “The Pile”  were several TREES.

Tall trees.

75 foot tall trees.

Trees with leaves that once were green and vibrant but were now singed and dead, killed by the sheer heat of the fire. And I thought about what could have happened. What if those trees had caught on fire?

I turned slowly and looked at our home about 50 feet away. Sitting next too it was the big green monster, also known as the propane tank. And I thought of could have happened.

By the grace of God we survived the ordeal. We didn't burn down the neighborhood or go


into oblivion.

A house now sits on the spot where “The Pile” once stood. It was however several years before I would let my husband burn in the back yard. And now, he's restricted to burning in a metal drum.


  1. There are certain advantages to being single...

  2. Too Funny!!! I had never heard this story.... I love your sense of drama with the different fonts.... Louise aka/anonymous

  3. Just read this one for the 1st time...clicked over from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Love it! Now back to your current post...