(Author's note: Despite great temptations to rewrite and edit this piece while NOT under the unfluence of pain-killing drugs, a certain amount of charm is retained if preserved as is. And so it will remain. -- David Ian)
David’s Log Entry #1
Okay, lesse, Fire Rule #1 : Fire bad.
Got that one down
Fire Rule #2: Fire Hurt Lots.
Got that one, too.
Fire Rule #3: Fire Don’t Play Fair.
Hmmm, don’t think I heard that one before.
Too bad. I could’ve used that little tidbit as I think about it in retrospect, rewrapping the bandages and popping the “pain pills”. Fire Don’t Play Fair. Gotcha.
Well, I guess there’s a beginning to be got to, so I might as well begin there.
As Saturdays go in Oregon, it was an exceptionally nice one, and with the added bonus of no rain scheduled for the day, which, this being around the Spring season, was rather decent of Oregon to use one of its preciously allotted “rain free” days (as opposed to its plentiful “free rain” days) so early in the year.
Especially when we were cleaning our house for moving, trimming away our brush for moving, and getting a head start on “vegetation management” which, for some folks is known as “mowing the lawn”, but with the rain forest frequency of light precipitation we experience, what passes for “grass” in Oregon takes upon the characteristics of “mutant bamboo”.
But I was talking about fire. Which leads to a little more history; we have fifteen acres of property, which amounts to a good deal of “organic clutter” about here, which is typically taken care of by adding a small dose of “Fire” ® T.M. to the pile, which often takes care of it. Problem is, “Fire” ® T.M. needs clear and unsoggy days in order to “work its magic” on the organic stuff. And if you’ll note my previous observation, “unsoggy days” have been few and far between up until now.
So, I gleefully piled all the sacrificial stuff into the “sacrificial pit”, which was more now a “sacrificial pile” and added the magic flame to it, and went off to do some “vegetation management” with the “vegetation mower”.
There are some astute people right now who are shaking their heads saying, “Didn’t you see it coming…” to whom I have to address: this is about the Hollywood equivalent of the camera lingering upon someone or something just for a moment that sort of says, “This’ll be important, we’ll get back to him/her/it.” I’ve just given you that little bit of foreshadowing, so don’t go off thinking yourselves clever. Now, where were we? Oh yes. Fire.
David’s Log Entry #2
Fire ® T.M. is applied to burnables, I watch it for some time, it builds to its zenith, then begins to die down. I go off to do some mowing. Strange, a little voice in my head said, “Ya know, if yer not careful, you’ll have a repeat of what happened to yer dad on this same property thirty some-odd years ago.” Funny, those little voices, aren’t they? I was able to dismiss it with the logic, “Yeah, well that was in the summer when everything was dry and we had a wild fire in the field. Can’t possibly happen here, everything around the area is green. (camera pauses for just a moment. CUT TO: David mowing lawn.)
Okay, so I’ve been sick the last few days, don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t debilitating, just enough to make me feel slightly yucky, but after a couple of uphill-grade pushes of the lawnmower I started feeling that familiar burning in the chest for which my body is saying, “You’re respiratory system is not at full capacity and we are registering a complaint at this physical exertion, cease and desist NOW, or we will punish you…
Yeah, right, deal with it. Mowing had to be done. Sunny weekends in Oregon are few and far between, and I’ve got a performance next weekend, so complaint duly noted, but this project needs to get done. True to its labor structure, other parts of my body begin a “sympathy strike” as well, most notably legs and arms needed to push the thing, and absorb the rattling of the machine. I push forward, get a square done, one more like it and mowing done, but the combined resistance has won the day. The rest can be finished at a later time, and I go somewhere to collapse.
But not before going out and checking on the fire, which is now a smoldering heap with lots of smoke. Okay, good enough. Need to recover for a bit. Need to chug something, really thirsty. Michelle takes one look at me and sees exertion written all over my body language. The sweat is a good indicator, too. I mention the lingering sickness, she nods and understands, I probably shared it with her at some point and she’s been rather slow lately, too.
Slip into recover mode, a bit of change of clothing, etc. let everything settle down to as normal as can be. (CUE: Ominous music at smoldering pile, smoke drifting lazily across acreage…
David’s Log Entry #3
Okay, so, a bit of recovery, rehydrate a bit, and let the body simmer down. Taking a look outside and the smoke is still drifting away in pretty good volumes. Something’s not quite right, the voices are saying, and David listens. Looks for some shoes to put on and hunts for some socks as well. He can’t find the ratty socks he was wearing before, and he’s quickly looking for something, anything. His sock drawer is partially open and he spots a pair of fairly nice socks, not the kind he would normally do yard work in, but he’s just checking outside, anyway. The little voice says, “those socks”. David’s in a hurry, so what’s at hand will work for now. Another Hollywood “Lingering Camera Moment”
Armed with some shoes now its time to go outside, look at the burn pile again, it’s still just smoldering, no flames at all, but something is just not quite right. The smoke is coming from somewhere other than the burn pile. This is worrisome. Go down to eyeball the situation and suddenly I discover Fire Rule #2A: “Fire Is Sneaky.” Again, this is a new one on me. I should read the manual and all the rules when I use Fire ® TM. All the green grass that I had seen before is fine, untouched, still green. All the small strands of dead grass from the previous winter form a sort of network which is extremely sparse in many places, and has little congregations in other places. So the fire burns UNDER the green grass like a very slow fuse, not much fuel at all to get from spot to spot, then flares up where there might be a small clump or so, then spread out like little snakey fingers until it can find another congregation of dead clump to fuel it some more, and so on. What this means is that David sees mostly green grass with patches here and there of ash, the sneaky underground network used by the fire until it could find some real fuel and create a sort of ash patch. It’s surreal looking, actually, ash patches amid lush green grass, and the unmistakable sound of popping to the left, to the right, and down the hill where the trees are… Great. The house and any important part of the property, or anyone’s property, for that matter are not threatened, but the “Fire Don’t Play Fair” rule is coming into effect, and it is taking evasive maneuvers, heading off into what is, essentially, the wild.
David’s first response is rather typical, stomping out the nearest bit of sneaky fire near him in a sort of chastisement that the whole Fire Organism finds rather amusing more than threatening. Realizing he’s hopeless with just the bottom of his shoes, he sprints up to the garage to get a shovel, the broadest blade possible, to smack out the little blazing fingers that are spreading ever so slowly, and yet, ever so determined. Rushing back, and armed with a broad bladed shovel (about x2 the area of a regular spade) designed for muck heaving more than digging, and sets to work on what would strategically be known as the South flank.
David makes very good time patting out the slow but eager little burn spots, working from the South end of the hill in provides an easy accessabilty to the flames, and the grass here is heavily green. Advantage The Man. But off in the distance to the east, David hears that oh so familiar popping down in the more heavy underbrush farther down the hill. Looking at the underbrush, there are many thorny plants down there, and David is in short sleeves and will get rather ripped up if he goes bare armed. “You are going to need a long sleeved shirt” the Little Voice says again, which David sees the sense in if he needs to go “Full Terrain” against his adversary.
There’s also another strategic bonus that comes from this maneuver which the Little Voice most likely had in mind, but would never in a million years suggest outright. In order to get this shirt, he must disturb his wife, Michelle, who has been blissfully resting this whole time, her body having called a strike on her as well. Of course The Man is going to handle this fire all by himself, and not get his wife involved, after all, it might be a dangerous thing, and besides, The Man can handle it all by himself.
The Little Voice was pretty convinced The Man was fooling himself. Little Voices can be rather wise. If one lets them.
“What? What’s going on?” the urgent question comes from The Wife as David slams into the house to get some protective sleeves. “It’s the fire. It’s spreading. It’s not out of control, it’s just… not contained.” David downplays the situation. Truth is, David didn’t take a full assessment of the situation, he only knew how easily things went on the South Flank and it shouldn’t be any problem hunting down and smacking the rest of it. Again, David’s not taking into account “Rule #3 about Fire Don’t Fight Fair”. “Get a shovel when you can, and come on down to the hillside.” Full sleeved shirt thrown on, David rushes out the door to rejoin the fight again. Arriving on the South Flank again, David is relieved to see not too many little fires have sprouted up again where he had been working; this is good. Michelle can be maintenance, then, following afterwards and ensure an extinguished fire stays extinguished, whacking the ones that try to come back to life again..
Working down the hill, the South Flank is now turned into the East flank, David is attacking the lower side of the hill instead of coming from the side and working in. Good progress is being made, although the fires are a bit more robust here as there’s a bit more fuel here and there to encourage it. The odd trees along the hillside are certainly green enough to repel the licking flames as they come toward them. This is a good thing. If the fire gets into the crowns of the trees, the embers get tossed up into the air, and land who knows where. So far, no embers have been caught up into the smoke, it is a very low-key fire. Advantage to The Man.
Trying to work away from the smoke as it blows steadily west, David tries another tack on the East Flank at a particularly stubborn bit. The logistics are getting confusing, no longer does the South slope of the hill provide an advantage, the wind shifts occasionally, and smoke is changing direction now and again.
At this point it wouldn’t be necessarily fair to say that the Fire Organism was playing The Man, or even drawing him in, but it would be accurate to say up to the point the Fire had been conceding a lot of ground where it was more at the disadvantage. Here, in the slope of the East Flank, Fire played its hand, invoked Rule #3, and struck.
David’s Log Entry #4
So, David is whacking away at fire, making some good time in the middle of the slope of the East Flank (CUT TO: Hollywood shot, tattered cuffs of David’s jeans, fire flares up, catches on the small strings hanging down, then begins to burn in earnest.) David is busy whacking away when he feels a pain in his leg. This is momentarily ignored as a group of ferns need to be emphatically stamped out. The pain decides it does not want to be ignored, and so asserts itself more emphatically. David looks down and suddenly realizes his whole pant leg has caught fire and begins smacking quickly at the open flames. The fire stubbornly will NOT go out, having found an excellent fuel in jeans material. David begins yelling, an angry sort of yell, but also spiced with that urgent excitement that prolonged pain evokes. At this point it is obvious 1) The fire is NOT going to go away, no matter how much it is batted at 2) The pain is NOT going to go away no matter how much it is shouted at and 3) the fire has a lot of jeans material to play with and use as fuel.
Oddly, in the middle of the blinding, searing pain, and as the mind attempts to adjust to solving its new problem, that age old, time reliant idea of “Stop, Drop & Roll” comes to mind. Taking stock of the situation, this would entail dropping into the burned ash, and rolling essentially downhill into the burning fire, the slope being too steep to roll up the incline. This is dismissed immediately and another solution is sought, all the while David is screaming and he hears Michelle’s answer in panic, as she 1) Can’t SEE where David is and 2) Rarely hears David use such words before and 3) Is invoking the worst possible scenario in her mind consummate with the screams she is hearing.
Again, the Little Voice slices through in this moment of crisis, clearer than the screams from The Wife, and certainly cutting through the angry pain filled shouting from The Man. “The pants have to come off”. Now, to the logical order of things, this would mean that the shoes would need to come off first before the pants in order to be able to get them off, but David already sees the method in the middle of the madness. Dropping the shovel (Hollywood camera lingers on the shovel lying in a line of flames) David begins unbuttoning the burning pants and shoving them down to the ankles, the fire is immediately extinguished, the inverted pant leg suffocating the flames. That done, the pants are fastened again around the waist, and although the recently burned pant leg is still rather hot, it is doubled up and brought up over the knee.
David remembers that his wife heard his screams, and had been frantically shouting “Where are you? David! David!” Her mind must be thinking the absolute worst. “Michelle! I’m all right! Michelle!” No answer.
David is ready to begin in earnest again against the flames, and so picks up the metal handled shovel out of the flames, which immediately hurts. And continues to hurt. Must’ve been quite a joke for the Fire Organism to sear the very instrument that had up to this point been giving it a beating. “Throw the shovel down” says the Little Voice, “and get some new pants on. You won’t get much farther with your leg exposed like that.” The hot shovel is thrown down and David retreats back to the house.
Here he finds The Wife on the phone, giving directions to the house. “Must be calling in The Professionals” David flash thinks to himself as he runs to fetch another set of jeans. He is putting them on as he listens to her describe the situation. David relays the size of the spread of the fire and realizes that it was much too conservative, even though the South Flank and most of the East Flank have been extinguished. Michelle points to David’s exposed leg which is marred and looks ugly; David nods in acknowledgement, but there is no longer any pain there.
After a short while David goes back outside to have another go at the spreading fire. He considers hosing down his pant legs so the same “setback” can’t happen again. For some reason he doesn’t, and goes out to pick up the now cooled shovel and start at the fires again.
The East Flank has now burned past the barbed wire fence demarking the property line, which means it has spread into the adjoining woods. There is less dead grass here, but now there are fallen and decayed leaves littering the ground, and less green grass. It’s an even trade off, but David is afraid of the cedar trees in the area which drop down huge amounts of dried acidic needles which effectively kill all the underbrush and create very large open areas of dead decay. That could be bad.
David goes at the spreading fire with a vengeance, switching sides each time the wind changes direction, staying upwind of the fire and smoke, and not allowing the flames to flare up near his feet. He has to take more frequent breaks to catch his breath, and paces himself a bit more, there’s plenty more fire to be put out, and knows it won’t be too long before The Professionals arrive.
After a good amount of time, and David beginning to pace himslef a familiar voice can be heard calling, “David!” – “David! I want you up here!”
“It’s a reasonable request.” The Little Voice says. David has to agree. David pounds out the last bits of a spot fire in an area. “Coming!” the hike up the hill is longer than expected. “Coming!” yelled again, so she can hear the voice coming closer. David crests the hill to the East flank and there is the familiar red truck of The Professionals. Surprisingly, they don’t ask too many questions concerning the nature of the blaze or its scope, these are Professionals, after all, there’s a nice comment that the spread is completely stopped on the South Flank and David heads off and drops down near the garden fencing, and catches his breath for a good long while.
David’s Log Entry #5
Panting like a dog, now, David watches The Professionals point and plan and position their vehicles, and looks enviously at the flame resistant clothing they are wearing. Michelle comes and sits by him for a short time. “Are you okay?” David asks. “No,” she replies honestly. Fair enough. “Thanks for calling it in,” David acknowledges. After a short bit she gets up and goes back to the house. After another short while it is obvious The Professionals don’t need anymore information, and the dog pantings have stopped, so David makes his way back to the house as well. Much liquids are downed, as fighting fires are rather thirst-inspiring, but David notices that he cannot hold a glass in a single hand.
He sits down and suddenly the adrenalin comes to a crashing drop. Adrenalin, that wonderful stuff that turns us into supermen, allowing us to do things we wouldn’t normally be able to do, for a longer more sustained amount of time. There’s no question in his mind that armed with a good inflow of the stuff, that David could have finished out the fire as necessary. Adrenalin also makes you rather stupid as well. Now David holds onto his water glass with both hands and begins to shake uncontrollably. Enjoying sustained bouts of adrenalin is not without its price, too. David looks at the finger on his left hand and it is shaking convulsively, and he cannot will it to stop, or even to make a decent fist with his hands. The hand that held onto the metal handle of the shovel, and the blistering is starting to show on two pads of the fingers, and the worst on the thumb.
The body also produces a good amount of natural morphine, as well, which allows you to ignore a certain amount of pain for a short period of time. This valve also got shut off at about the same time as the adrenaline. Suddenly the right leg and the left hand scream out in a symphony of fiery pain. Oddly enough, it’s like the fire has instilled its essence onto the nerves and now it is like it has caught fire all over again. David can’t imagine enduring this sustained feeling like this for hours on end, he imagines the sleepless night will be filled with painful outbursts and useless thrashing.
The Wife goes online to find the best way to deal with burns of this nature, and comes back with wet and cool cloths to put directly on the wounds, and strangely enough, it is like the fire is extinguished by the damp and cool, and the pain subsides immensely. The Professionals make an appearance, a couple specialized in injuries.
“Okay,” The Professional says after looking over everything, “you’ve got everything right here, the hydration to keep fluids in your system, the damp towels over the wound, this is all fine; but that’s a second degree burn you’ve got on your leg there, and you’ll need to have a doctor look at that and get some more treatment.”
Ironically, all the trucks of The Professionals have blocked us in, and The Wife is in no condition to drive, anyway, so an ambulance is called for the trip to the hospital.
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