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How my Brother and I Started a Forest Fire
Living Surrounded by the Forest
We lived on a country farm that was forested and the farm house was in quite a large clearing that some day would become housing developments. I think that we lived on about 10 acres or so and that our closest neighbor was our uncle who had about 100 acres or so that he raised cattle on. Our grandparents lived next to the uncle on about 5 acres and then there were two neighbors each on 5 or ten acres. That was the whole neighborhood. We had trails through the woods to each of these locations and a bunch of other ones, too.
The forest was our playground. It was filled with wonderful things like huckleberry, salmon berry, blackberry, and salal. There were stumps of such magnitude that they must have been old growth trees harvested a hundred years before. There were many maple and alder lining the creek banks and lots of willow on the edge of the creek bed and the forest was mainly fir, spruce, and cedar. This was an elegant mix of forest growth and provided a jungle gym for us to play on and a canopy for hot weather or shelter in the rain.
The Idea Man
Nothing feels better than mud squeezing up between the toes on a hot day. And the thrill of jumping from tree to tree by swaying them back and forth was a fine way to spend the afternoon. The situation was idyllic. We would play for hours under the deep salal that grew to massive heights under the trees where we labeled them the deep bushes.
I have a sister though who is an idea person, and a do it kind of gal, too. She always came up with the ideas and they were always pretty good. We were just little guys, I was about 9 or 10 years old and my brother is 17 months older. Anyway, my sister, Linda was older, she must have been about 15 years old at that time. She was smart as hell and always had the ideas, plans, and adventures to get us all whipped and sent us to bed with no dinner.
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The Fire Ring Potato Baker
So, for entertainment, we all went out into the middle of the forest. Linda had made a clearing where she had put together a fire ring and regularly went out there and practiced her arson: baking potatoes in the coals. Boy were those potatoes good, even if they had blackened outsides and raw parts on the inside. It was just fun. Where we got the potatoes is another story.
What fun it was to have our own little fire in the middle of the forest and cooking those potatoes. Did you know that you can bake potatoes on a stick, too? That was great fun if there was time. You could hold the potato over the fire and rotate it from time to time. Sometimes the potato would fall in the fire and turn completely black but you could still eat it by pulling it out of the fire and cutting it open. The outside might be black, but the inside was white and steamy. There were plenty of times that they came out just right and the whole time we waited, we had the fire to play with.
This was just one of the wonderful and illegal adventures my sister Linda led us on. She was quite a wonderful sister and provided us with untold adventures. This one though is one that I suspect we would have been better off without.
The reason I say this is because it may not be such a good idea to teach a couple of young boys how to build a fire. We would have been much better off not knowing such. Too late.
How to build a good Fire
Since Linda was a teenager, she had other pursuits and we were left to entertain ourselves. So my brother and I decided to go play in the forest and of course we ended up at the fire site hidden deep in the woods. We were stupid though because we forgot the potatoes. But we did have matches.
We didn't know if we could start a fire but we decided to try anyway. We had no paper and no kindling and no tools, but we did have desire and will. We collected together some dried pine needles, pine cones, and bits of moss. You will find that this combination is astoundingly good for starting fires. It was lit with only one match.
We sure felt proud of ourselves as we scrambled for twigs and small sticks to add to the fire. We eventually added larger sticks and soon had a fire going to be envied by the most ardent arsonist. Boy was that fun. We played with that fire for several hours.
Don't Put a Fire out this Way.
As it was getting late, we decided that we should go. It was time to put the fire out. That part of the lesson was a little foggy. We pulled together a couple of logs that were there and threw some other stuff on the fire until it seemed like it was out. Then we went home.
It wasn't long after that when I heard my mother screaming, “There's a forest fire!” “Oh my God, the forest is on fire.”
Firefighting Equipment Rolled In
My brother and I looked at one another wide eyed. We skedaddled out of there as fast as we could. We watched as the fire crews came and brought firetrucks and tankers and ran a pumping hose to our little creek. The firefighting equipment rolled in.
We were terrified. The smoke was billowing out of our little part of the forest. We knew we were in trouble like never before. Fortunately, the smoke and fire was not as bad as it could have been and they quickly had it under control. But there was no mistaking that this was going to be serious trouble.
The Fire Marshal
My mother was in the yard talking animatedly to the fire marshal. She gestured toward us. And we had to go face the music. The fire marshal told us that the fire was the result of an unattended camp fire. We immediately both told the truth, that it was us. He was very stern and told my mother he was not sure what action that he would take but two little boys could end up in jail. Of course, we obliged by crying out eyes out and begging for mercy.
Mercy was granted this one time and we walked away with no jail time. But let me tell you this, I have never left a fire pit that wasn't perfectly cold again in my lifetime. I carry a bucket and shovel and douse every campfire I have before I leave.
Another thing that I learned that day was to try to understand how my sister Linda did all these adventures without getting into trouble. You have to be careful. You have to think about what you are doing, and if it is crime, you really need to think it through.