Burn Day: never had two little words struck such fear into my heart. In order to truly appreciate the anxiety I faced on this day, the reader needs a little history. Having acquired property owned for many years by a little old lady, things were a little overgrown on
our farm, to say the least. Over several months Roxanne and I had chopped away at the shrubbery, trees and just general junk; slowly but surely making headway in cutting back the overgrowth, until one could almost walk the property without the use of a machete.
However, in another sense all we had accomplished was to move the problem from one location to another. Our property was now
dotted with huge piles of dead and dying brush. While I didn’t see any problem with these piles and assigned a low priority to their removal, Roxanne had other ideas. She seemed to take their presence as a personal affront and insisted upon their quick demise.
Having been outvoted (Roxanne’s vote seems to carry more weight than mine), we had to come up with a plan to eliminate the
piles. Being too cheap to hire a landscaper to chip them up, we were stuck with burning them. Now burning brush would not seem to be rocket science, but Roxanne and I had some fundamental differences on how to approach the problem. I saw it as a dangerous job to be carefully planned and executed; Roxanne, on the other hand, viewed it as a pagan ritual to be eagerly anticipated.
Tired of my procrastinating, one day Roxanne casually announced she was going to soak the brush piles with gasoline, throw a match on them and stand back with the weenies ready. I, like any sane person, was aghast when I heard this. After considerable effort I was able to persuade her that dropping a match onto a gasoline-soaked, tinder-dry pile of brush in the middle of August
when we had not seen a drop of rain for weeks was not a good idea. I thought I had dodged the bullet and went cheerfully back to my other projects. Little did I know I had just postponed the inevitable; for on the first day of September she again came to me with her book of matches clutched tightly in her sweaty hand, a weird glazed look on her face and said that she was ready to “burn,
I was able to stall her for a couple of more weeks, but when the autumn rains arrived I ran out of excuses and reluctantly gave in to Roxanne’s fervent pleadings. It was also about this time I begin to suspect there might be a dark side to my lovely wife of which I had not previously been aware. Her need to burn at all costs seemed to be a little bit on the unhealthy side; in fact, one could probably have called her need to burn an obsession, without stretching things to far. Had I unknowingly married a repressed
Putting my forebodings aside, I reluctantly agreed to try burning one cool autumn day in late September. But having made
this concession, couldn’t even agree with which pile of brush to start. Roxanne wanted to go for broke and start with our big granddaddy pile. This pile, which would make a college homecoming committee proud, was not only huge but located under a big tree and immediately adjacent to our heritage barn. After much discussion (read that as begging on my part) we agreed to experiment with one of our smaller piles. These piles had the advantage, at least in my eyes, of being located in the middle of our wide open pastures, where if things got out of control all we would loose would be a couple of acres of grass – hopefully…
As Roxanne danced around with glee – I was reminded of natives preparing to burn missionaries at the stake - I started the
preparations. First, I dragged our garden hose out to the burning site. Although Roxanne saw this as an unnecessary precaution, I wanted a source of water readily available in case things got out of control. Fortunately, I discovered the hose was not long enough to reach our chosen burn pile. This meant we had to postpone the catastrophe (sorry, event) while we procured more
hose. I secretly welcomed this small reprieve, while Roxanne walked dejectedly back to the house.
A few days later we returned to the farm with the extra hose. I made the necessary hook-ups and ran some tests to insure we had
adequate water pressure available. Then, like any good scout I walked the immediate burn zone looking for potential hazards. I then examined the brush pile itself to insure that there were no hidden hazards buried in it. I was considering digging a fire trench around the pile as an added precaution, but when I caught sight of Roxanne tapping her foot with her arms folded across her
chest I knew I could delay the inevitable no longer.
By this time Roxanne had stuffed the pile with newspaper and thoroughly soaked the branches with kerosene. (I had at least been able to talk her out of her suicidal plan of using gasoline as the accelerant.) Again, I found myself secretly questioning whether her ultimate motive was to get rid of a little brush or to burn down half the county. But I was in too deep now to back out, so against my better instincts I struck a match against a piece of newspaper and stood back.
As expected the dry brush and kerosene worked together to produce an almost instantaneous conflagration. Flames jumped into the sky and a tremendous roar surrounded us as all the available oxygen was abruptly sucked both from the surrounding air and our gasping lungs. Fighting for our lives and the safety of our neighbors, I bravely stepped up to the flames and flooded them
with water from my ever-ready hose. As I patted myself on my back for my foresight in having this water available I heard Roxanne scream, “What are you doing? It is just getting going good!” Yes, there was now no doubt about it; I had married a fire bug. As I watched she circled the fire screaming for more flames. It was not a pretty sight, to say the least. Somehow I stood my ground against the overwhelming odds (both the fire and Roxanne) and slowly the flames started to give way. “Maybe, just maybe we might be able to save the farm,” I gratefully thought as I wearily wiped soot from my face. Then out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of Roxanne dragging brush from an adjacent pile to feed the dying flames. “Lucky for us I saw the fire was dying and
brought more fuel,” she said; tossing yet more dried wood onto the flames.
And so it went for the next several hours. As quickly as I would bring the flames under control with my trusty hose, Roxanne would gleefully toss on more fuel, all the time laughing with an unhealthy-sounding, high-pitched cackle. Also, I discovered that dumping copious amounts of water upon a hot flame produces huge amounts of ugly black smoke. As I watched these clouds billow into the clear afternoon sky I assumed it would be just a matter of time before I heard the sound of sirens from our local volunteer fire
As the afternoon waned, I decided I had done all I could. I was exhausted. I reluctantly handed the hose to Roxanne and bade her farewell - never expecting to see her or my farm again. Later that afternoon I got a call from Roxanne. As I answered her call with a heavy heart, I expected to hear the sounds of fire trucks in the background. But all was silence. All I heard was the sad voice of Roxanne saying, “My fire went out.”