I’ll admit to it. I inhaled.
I had to. Since breathing was a requisite for staying alive, I really didn’t have a choice.
Let me explain. One Friday evening after a particularly rough week at the office I was on my way home – looking forward to kicking my shoes off and planting my butt on the couch for the rest of the night. Everything was going as planned until I received the following text message from a friend of mine as I was pulling into my driveway.
“Are you home? My boyfriend called and said
the woods behind the house are on fire and I’m 30 minutes away.”
I went inside the house and grabbed a fire extinguisher and a shovel and headed over to my friend’s house that fortunately – for her, not me – was only two miles away. I was in full Smokey-the-Bear mode just as I was when I put out a fire in the microwave in the break room many years ago after an employee tried warming up a sausage biscuit wrapped in aluminum foil. (You’re welcome, 2,000 employees and 2.2-million square foot warehouse that never thanked me for saving you all from a fiery death.)
Unfortunately the woods were still on fire. Flames four feet tall were spread throughout an area the size of an Olympic swimming pool, a rather poor analogy since the only water available was provided by 150 yards of connected rubber hoses tracing back to a faucet on the side of the house. Sadly it didn’t take long for the hose to meet its fiery death. I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the back of the truck, pulled the pin, aimed at one of the flames on the perimeter of the fire, squeezed the trigger…and watched all of two seconds worth of white powder trickle out of the end of the nozzle.
Note to self: Check the other 20-year old fire extinguishers in the house to make sure they are charged.
Not to be deterred, I grabbed my shovel and using both the shovel and my right foot started smashing out as many flames as I could. Over the next two-and-a-half hours I, along with two other people – that eventually became three once my friend got home – managed to subdue the fire to the point that all that was necessary was for someone to watch over the area to make sure none of the still-hot embers flamed up again, a gig that ultimately lasted throughout the weekend.
Once the ashes settled I asked why the fire department wasn’t called. Here’s the short version: They didn’t have a burning permit; the fire appeared to be under control; the fire was left unattended for one hour; the fire began “coloring outside the lines,” a spontaneous fire brigade was formed; the fire was subdued – miraculously for sure. I guess that made me an accomplice.
Looking back on it now, I’m thankful none of the random flames that shot out of the ground did so directly beneath me. Otherwise I feel certain my pant leg would have caught fire, and I have serious doubts as to whether “stop, drop and roll” would have worked in the middle of what was essentially a small-scale forest fire.
Regarding the inhaling I mentioned earlier, as you might expect quite a bit of smoke found its way into my lungs. When I ran the next morning I had considerable trouble breathing. It was as if my lungs were on fire. I imagine someone who has smoked a pack a day for many years would have a similar sensation. In hindsight I should have tied a bandana around my head, covering my nose and mouth as a smoke deterrent. In hindsight I should have checked the gauges on my fire extinguishers to make sure they were charged. In hindsight I should have just turned off my cell phone on the way home.
In hindsight I should have just called the fire department and turned the matter over to the pros.
If I had, I would have never inhaled.
Scott Ludwig lives, runs and writes in Senoia with his wife Cindy, three cats and never enough visits from his grandson, Krischan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org