Guest Blogger — My Husband
When I was about 14 years old my stepfather pulled a stunt that became a classic story in my family.
It was early January and we had removed the Christmas tree from our house. I had placed it in the back yard to cut it into manageable sizes for the curb side garbage pick up. Now, I’m sure most of you have never been to Oklahoma in the winter. Let me describe it for you.
Oklahoma tends to be a fairly arid state in the winter. Compound that with dry vegetation and stiff winds and you get a recipe for the following that just can’t be beat.
My stepfather had been a fire bug as a child. He had scars on his chest from when he set his bed on fire while playing with matches late at night. He was also a Yankee and perhaps that is what prompted him to do the re-enactment of Sherman’s “March to the Sea”.
The layout of our house is as follows. We had a fair sized back yard on the north side of our house. To the west was our neighbor’s house laid out in similar fashion to ours. To the north was the backyard of a house that fronted a road that was perpendicular to our street. To our east was a large vacant lot my folks bought in order to keep from having a house built right next to ours. This lot was the center of play for all the neighborhood kids.
As I mentioned earlier, it is dry and windy in Oklahoma in the winter. All the grass was the color of wheat straw and just as dry.
I was preparing to cut the tree into pieces with a limb saw when my stepfather came out of the back door. He commented to me that Christmas trees were very combustible and presented a real fire hazard. I said something in agreement and started sizing up where I was going to make my cuts. At this time my stepfather decided we needed a demonstration of just how combustible dried out evergreens can be. As a kid raised in Oklahoma I had seen grass and pasture fires where cedar trees that were live went up like small nuclear devices when the fire reached them. I had also helped clear land and watched brush piles burn off in a fashion that always reminded me of newsreels of cities hit by bombers in WWII.
Seeing as my stepfather was now looking to put the match to this tree in our back yard, I went into the garage to get a water hose. I was connecting to the faucet in preparation to wet the grass when he asked me what I was doing. When I told him, he replied I was making too much of this. Thinking this could get fun, I put the hose back into the garage.
As I returned from the garage my stepfather was lighting off the tree. It ignited with a vengeance. Within a few seconds the entire tree was burning fiercely from tip to stump. However, the surrounding grass decided it could not be shown up by a member of the evergreen family and proceeded to join in the festivities. With the steady and brisk encouragement of the west wind, the fire quickly made its way to the cyclone fencing at the east side of our yard.
I had run into the house to get an old beach towel and was wetting it at the faucet to get ahead of the fire and start beating it out. As I was headed to the fence, my stepfather got huffy with me and told me I was overreacting. I figured we really needed to get this fire knocked down before it got to the vacant field as the grass in the field had not been mowed short as our lawn had been.
I decided to let him deal with the consequences and put the towel back in the house. I then went back out into the yard to watch the show. By now the fire had reached the fence line and was really getting after it. The fire quickly went as far east as it could where it finally met its match in the form of a wide paved road. Not wanting to throw in the towel so early in the game, the fire turned north and headed for the neighbor’s front lawn.
Now parked upon this front lawn were a couple of tricycles made of plastic called “Big Wheel”. These were very popular toys for kids back then and these had just been received as gifts for Christmas.
Did you know that plastic burns even better than evergreens?
By this time some of the neighbors had decided to join in the festivities and were working along the edges of the fire with whatever was at hand trying to keep it from spreading further. I guess their interest in the relative flammability of various houses and cars did not match my stepfather’s.
In just a few moments the fire was brought under control as it found itself corralled by driveways and sidewalks. Neighbors managed to snuff out the intruder in the areas where it might have found better grazing for its appetite. Just as the last bit of fire was being snuffed out we heard the sound of approaching sirens. Soon the Noble Volunteer FD appeared. With practiced ease, three men jumped off the back of the truck with a fire hose & wrench and make a quick connection to the hydrant at the corner of the vacant lot. The truck continued toward the fire as the hose unfolded itself from the bed of the truck.
The truck was set up and the men fanned out. In just a few moments they had drenched any path of escape the fire may have had available. They did a quick wetting of the scorched field as a precaution.
The local fire marshal was soon asking questions. His first question was what was the source of the fire? As if controlled by one mind, all of us turned our heads and stared at the pitiful remains of the tree. All that was left was a long, slender trunk propped up by two or three limbs that had yet to finish burning. It looked like the remains of a Charlie Brown Christmas.
We then all turned toward my stepfather to hear his explanation. He did not offer much and was dressed down pretty well by the marshal.
We replaced the toys that were lost to the fire.