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©October 2001

Carol Jane Remsburg



Guess What I Did Sunday Night?





What had begun as an atypical Sunday certainly ended that way as well.  My husband was away for the week on his annual trip and my daughter and I were restive.  We decided to visit my sister and stay for an early dinner.  That's all well and fine and within the norm of my behavior, but finally the itch became too strong.  I had to act.


In the middle of my backyard sits an eyesore.  It's sat there for many years continually growing and evolving into something even hubby has begun to avoid.  We in the house euphemistically call it "the stick pile."  This isn't a simple pile of deadfall from the trees but it also includes the remains of the greenhouse we tore down some four years ago along with some enormous branches.  Its size is roughly 20' by 20' and well over 7' tall at its highest point, which is most of it.


It had rained the day before so it shouldn't have been exceptionally dry and the winds had died down.  I had wanted to surprise my spouse with my prowess of getting rid of that monstrosity.  I didn't want to do it during the daylight hours for two reasons.  The first reason is that many women in the area, myself included, line dry our clothes.  There isn't anything worse than someone burning a pile of leaves and deadfall to ruin the freshness of our laundry.  The second reason was that I knew this would make a huge smoking display that I'd rather not draw that much attention to.


So, with the wind gone and dusk about to settle in, now was the time if I was going to make the leap.  I had my sister and my niece come over to enjoy it with me.  I forged ahead and put a small piece of "fire starter" at the corner edge. 


I had run the garden hose out its entire length so I could counter and contain what I knew was going to be a big blaze from all sides.  Also, my trusty rake was by my side.  I was ready.  At least I thought I was ready.


Can you say inferno?  Can you say Dante's vision of Hell?  Can you say conflagration?  Uh oh!


This thing got enormous in a big hurry.  I began spraying it with water just in an attempt to keep it from leaping thirty to forty feet into the air.  Granted, nothing was anywhere near it that would have caught fire, but let me tell you this thing was HUGE.  Its very sound was hungry and large, threatening to say the least.  This wasn't your average bonfire or weenie roast.  This fire was a living, predatory thing.


I went from "I'm fine, my daddy was a fireman and I know what I'm doing," to "Boy, I wish Don were here," to "Omigod!  Somebody's going to call the cops and the firemen!  I just hope they help me put this out and don't fine me!" all in about fifteen minutes.


Funny thing.  Just when I decided that I didn't want to do this anymore and began working like a demon to kill the flames, sirens and flashing red & blue lights came speeding our way.  Even though I know I can burn in my area, this had become bigger than a mere leaf or refuse burn.  This looked like somebody's house was on fire, or SEVERAL somebody's houses on fire. 


The flashing lights turned out to be a state trooper who had conveniently pulled a speeder over just beyond my house.  While I'm frantically and almost futilely spraying with my hose to douse the pyre, my sister is jeering at me, "What a stupid idea this was!  What WERE you thinking?"


Um, had I really been thinking?


"Don't talk to me now!" I hollered back at her over the roar of the flames.


Suddenly I had visions of being arrested for burning too large a fire without, err, some man in attendance or the fire brigade, a license, or something!  Meanwhile, I was doing everything I'd ever learned about dousing a fire.  I had started on top and worked down, to the sides and steady at the coals underneath.  With this stack, it was more difficult to reach.  Then I began to make headway during that twenty-minute cop-stop of the speeder.


I knew, I just KNEW that once he was done with the traffic stop, the trooper would be pulling into my driveway and I'd have nothing but my own stupidity as an explanation.  Thoughts of fines ran rampant in my head.  In my ear, my sister's rantings weren't any help.  She simply built upon my sudden paranoia.


Egads!  What did the cop do?  He turned around and left.


It was well into full dark by then.  What I had hoped the neighbors wouldn't notice was like a strobe light.  You couldn't miss this and they didn't.  There were faces peering out lighted windows—at least as was reported to me by my sister and niece.  Me, I was frantic about putting out the fire and in constant motion.  The fire had my full and utmost attention.  Once that thing got going, there seemed to be no stopping it.


I'd get one area pretty toned down and then another spot would flare up in a blaze.  I had no time to watch the neighbor's windows.  I couldn't have even heard sirens as the sound of the fire overtook everything.  I was in and out of the smoke.  I was everywhere trying to kill what I'd begun.


By 10 PM, it was nothing more than a steaming mess.  With my weak water pressure and persistence I had dumped hundreds of gallons of water to kill the fire.  I knew what was left still needed to be burned later.  It had only devoured about a 1/3 of it.  I didn't care anymore.  I was tired, sore, and simply relieved to have it over with.  The litany of just how stupid I'd been ran through my head.  Sister and niece headed home.  I watched the fire area until midnight knowing how fires restart, I felt confident that I'd stopped it. 


5:30 AM came quickly and I was up.  I trudged out to the kitchen to start the coffee before my shower.  I'm not sure what possessed me, just call it "obsessive-compulsive" but I glanced out the back door to look at that burn pile.  Guess what?


It had re-ignited and was burning a merry hell.  Caffeine has absolutely NOTHING on fear as a wake up call.  Trust me, it can jump-start your day like nothing else.  I rushed to put on the smoky clothes of the previous evening and ran out of the house to grab the rake and the hose and set to work. 


My retired neighbor was also busy walking around his house at that hour.  Part of me wanted to call over to him, but my embarrassment kept me from doing it.  He was keeping busy outside basically to keep an eye on what was going on without saying so.  I gave him an embarrassed wave.  Once he saw me busy at it again, he went inside.  If I hadn't come out or things had ventured worse, I know he would have been right there if I'd had asked him or if I hadn't appeared.


By 5:45 AM I was one busy woman with the hose and the rake.  With the rake I was trying to rip 4 x 4's apart to get at the base of the fire.  Suddenly I was worried that I couldn't leave the house in time to get to work before putting this fire totally out.  Work isn't something I can be easily excused from even with a fire in my backyard.  Work also isn't something I can be late for.


Finally, by 6:30 AM, it seemed to have been killed.  Neither Heaven nor Hell has ever seen the determination of a woman frenetic over losing her job via lateness due to her own stupidity.  If anyone had a video camera it would have been NEWS AT 11.  My strenuous, frenzied efforts with the rake and hose had to be a comical sight as the dawn began to break.  I went back inside to get ready for a Monday at work and roust my daughter from her bed.


Much rushing later, we prepared to leave.  I started the car and then ran back out to the "stick pile" and doused it again.  I kept telling myself that this time I'd finally killed it for sure as I left for work.


Once I work I fretted and worried and had an adrenaline hangover.  It was awful.  I found I had ½ day vacation for December 31st that I could use.  I begged really hard and got it.  I fled home at noon just when I thought it might have re-stoked itself (yes THAT term fits here, I ran like my own tail was on fire).  To my relief, the fire was dead—really dead this time.


I wandered back to the pile.  It was still big, but nothing like it had been.  Yes, another burn and the final one with hubby home will make it go away.  Never again will we allow that pile to grow so large.


When Don did come home, he was totally nonchalant about the whole thing.  Silly me, why did I even try to douse it?  If I'd simply allowed it to flourish for an hour, it would have peaked and fallen in upon itself to a much smaller burn—says he! 


Oh well, he's promised that it will be gone.  We will do it together.


Never again will I attempt to do something like this on my own when even though I'm supposed to know what I'm doing, fire isn't anything to play with.  Daughter of a fireman or not, I am not trained for this type of thing.


And while nothing was close that could have ignited, I also know that sometimes things can fireball and absorb things not even close.  Our little stick pile will never grow larger than a moderate campfire again. 


I love a good fire, a contained fire, and one I can handle.  I have learned my lesson, perhaps you might as well if you have something ugly and dead in YOUR backyard.  Learn this—never let it grow to be THAT large.  If you already have one, call your local fire company to do a controlled burn.  They love that stuff and they are great company! 


So now you know what I did on Sunday night. 


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