Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fire In The Stack!

When I was in 6th grade our cousins came up from Eugene, Oregon, to visit. My younger brother Brad and cousin David were out in the yard by our well house trying to build a boat out of old Army surplus ammunition boxes. Brad would have been about seven years old at the time. It was getting dark when I happened upon them. I figured I would offer some older brother-type help and asked them if they wanted some light. They said “Sure.” I hated to see such industriousness get stopped just because it was getting dark.   

After rounding up some tin cans out of the trash barrel, I filled a bucket with gasoline from the farm fuel dispenser. After filling the cans with gas, I spread the volatile and topped-off cans in a large circle around their work area. Next, I lit a piece of cardboard on fire and lit the cans. Poof!  One at a time. The flames danced on top of the gas and the cans, flickering and providing the needed illumination for the seafaring work crew. 

After a few minutes a breeze picked up and began hindering the flames. A few of the petroleum lanterns went out and I kept busy relighting them. I finally realized it was time for another invention. I went over to the large haystack by our corral and drug some 100 lb. hay bales over to the circle of cans. I placed them between the makeshift torches and the gusts of wind that were blowing them out. This was a wise move as the flames returned to normal. I congratulated myself on the brilliant lighting operations I was conducting. But the wisdom and tame flames lasted for only a few more minutes.

Another problem soon surfaced. As the flames continued to burn, the gas heated up and soon began boiling. The fuel boiled over the top of the cans and began spreading out across the ground. Because of the wind, I had placed the hay bales right next to each of the cans and each of them soon caught fire from the spreading gasoline. 

This was a big and immediate problem! Now I had an overabundance of light. I ran like a rookie fireman who's trying to impress the Chief over to the well house, grabbed a hose, turned the water on and started spraying the burning bales. Soon I had the fires on each of the hay bales put out. I no longer felt like a rookie. I felt like the Chief.

My dad was in the house during this exciting progression of events. I knew that if he found out, I would be a dead duck, or more like a roasted dead duck. In fact, I had been taking a big chance because if anyone in the house had come out to check on us or call us to dinner, the scene outside would be immediately reported to him. 

I decided to return the bales back to where they had originally came from. I drug the water-soaked now 150lb. bales back to the haystack and placed them with the burned sides hidden snugly up against the stack. The blackened evidence was now hidden. I threw the cans in the garbage. I felt secure in the knowledge that all was safely restored to its original condition. If he found the blackened sides of the bales on another day, I could deal with it then. Maybe I could blame it on spontaneous combustion which I'd heard periodically does burn haystacks down.

I felt pretty good as a pyrotechnic manager/fire chief. I had had several problems crop up and had used all skills within my reach to solve them.

Lack of illumination-Solved. Flame killing winds-Solved. Fire in the hay-Solved. Evidence of fire-Solved. 

However, I was growing tired of being totally liable for the project. The wind was picking up. I didn't want to keep trying my luck so we went in the house.

About a half hour later, someone started banging on our back door. It opened before we could get up to answer it and Clarence Phipps, one of our neighbors, ran into the house. Before anyone could tell him that it was quite rude to come in without being invited, he yelled “Your haystack’s on fire!”

My heart sank. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I was definitely sure that I was part of the problem. We ran out and found that Clarence was correct. There was a huge fireball in the same place where there had been a haystack and boat construction facility a half hour earlier. Neighbors were driving into the yard to help. The fire was visible for miles. 

Dad began running around, trying to find water hoses and other solutions to this disaster. 

It would be appropriate to stop for a moment and talk about religion. There is something that we as Mormons call the Word of Wisdom. Included in the Word of Wisdom are instructions to avoid tobacco use, among other harmful substances. If you are interested in living longer and healthier, look it up in the Doctrine and Covenants or Google it. So how does this relate to the hay fire? Well, at this particular moment, I was very interested in living longer.
As dad ran by me in his search for more garden hose, he yelled “Were you out there smoking again?” I gave a meek response sprinkled with indignation, embarrassment and innocence, indicating as strongly as my guilty little voice could muster that his guess was incorrect. I was also just a little peeved that he had made the accusation in front of all the neighbors, including Bishop Cook. He was my ecclesiastical leader at the time and was also looking for more garden hose.

Why in the world would dad accuse me of breaking a commandment and inhaling a harmful substance when we had a fire to put out?  I made sure I didn't act too peeved or I knew I would get another harmful substance placed on my posterior with a swift kick in the form of dad's boot.

They managed to save some of the hay but most of it was lost. Dad had spent all summer growing, baling and hand-stacking the hay and I spent all of a half-hour destroying his work. It also burned some of the corrals and hay mangers that I had watched him in earlier years build with much effort. The charred remains can still be seen today, some 45 years later. Eventually they got the fire under control and part of my punishment was to stay out there all night and make sure it didn’t get out of control again. 

There was plenty of light available to anyone who wanted to build boats out of ammunition boxes for the rest of that night.My illumination expertise was no longer needed.

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