May 05


Last Sunday morning, as I made my way to the barn I was forced to take a detour. To my surprise, the road was blocked. Upon arriving at the barn, I could see the fire trucks at the next farm over. Smoke plumes rose straight up above the trees in the still morning air.

Barn on Fire!

Barn on Fire!

This photograph above was taken on Lori’s cell phone. She snapped the picture just after the roof of her neighbor’s barn had collapsed. Fortunately, there was no damage to the house and none of the surrounding forest caught fire.

Big cities employ professional fire fighters. These teams of brave men and women are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. By contrast, in the rural parts of the country, we rely on volunteer fire fighters. It is a trade-off for lower taxes and thus, shifts more responsibility onto the individual homeowner. Paying for home insurance, which is primarily intended to reimburse the property owner for damage to the structure, or loss due to fire, is part of the cost. It is also advisable to store valuables and important papers, like the deed to the house, passports or family records in a fire-proof box.

Additionally, country folks need to be vigilant about preventative measures. Clearing brush and other debris is imperative. Keeping fire-extinguishers readily accessible and in good working order is also important. Most newer homes are equipped with smoke detectors often couple to an alarm system and evidence shows that these definitely save lives. There are, of course, common sense measure to help prevent tragedy by fire. Among the more simple steps; If you smoke, never smoke in bed. Never leave the house with something in the oven. Do not leave candles or other open flame burning when you retire for the evening. Do not burn yard refuse on dry or windy days and be sure to have a garden hose ready along with other fire suppression tools. A shovel and some dirt can work well as an expedient to smother a grass fire. Never leave an open fire unattended. Store flammable materials in a safe area, usually outside and away from any structures. Understand that fire needs 3 things; heat, oxygen and fuel. If you take away one element the fire is halted.

The town in which I was raised had an all-volunteer fire company. They enjoyed a very good track record of no fatality fires in their town, until one horrible night. The story was that the college age daughter came home late at night with her date and they decided to watch some television. While sitting on the sofa sharing a smoke, the head of the cigarette had fallen off and landed on the couch, which subsequently began to burn. The young couple thought that they had put out the fire and said goodbye for the night. The boyfriend went home and the young woman went to bed shortly thereafter. Sadly, there remained a small bit of that hot coal lodged in between the cushions. Slowly, the hot ember smoldered away during the night and by the wee hours of morning, while everyone in the house was sound asleep, the building burst into flames. The house was destroyed and the ensuing investigation revealed that 5 of the seven members of that family had succumbed to the deadly and silent killer smoke, long before the building was consumed in fire. They never had a chance. I can remember driving by that once beautiful big home and seeing the end result of a careless indiscretion. Tragic.

My childhood neighbors also suffered a terrible fire in their home. Fortunately, no one died, but the house was totally destroyed. Apparently, Mrs. J. had forgotten to turn off the oven before she went to work. The item she left in the oven was found to be the cause of the fire. I can remember coming home from school that day to find the fire crew working to suppress the last of the blaze and the neighbor girls standing in the street in tears. They had lost all their clothing and personal belongings.

Kids playing with fire.

Another incident I remember very clearly was when I was hiking in the woods near my childhood home. It was a lovely autumn day and most of the foliage had dropped from the trees. The summer and autumn seasons had been especially dry. It had been a drought year. I was coming back from one of my favorite swimming destinations and I could hear the town fire-whistle frantically blowing. I didn’t think much of it until I came up over the rise and looked down toward the lake. The woods were ablaze and the fire was coming up the ridge toward me! I turned and ran all the way home. Later I learned that a couple of boys had been playing with matches and accidentally set the forest on fire. It was reported that nearly 100 acres had burned. Fortunately, no one was injured and no structures were damaged.

At the age of 8 or 10 I was experimenting with my magnifying glass . It was fun and exciting to see the focused beam of refracted sunlight cause smoke and then, poof – a flame!….until I realized, uh-oh, the fire is spreading quickly! I ran to get the garden hose and by the time I returned, the fire had spread to a much larger area. I was lucky that my neighbor had seen it and jumped into action before things really got out of hand. He was wetting the area down by the time I got back with my hose. When he had sufficiently smothered the fire, old Mr. Morrison gave me a scolding and told my parents. The consequences of this stunt resulted in a serious spanking and being grounded for 2 weeks. It was a valuable learning experience and I am glad it didn’t turn out worse.

Another interesting experience was when I was about 23 years old. At that time, I lived in Denver and at every opportunity I would head to the high mountains for hiking and camping. My college buddy, Ed came out from New York to visit in late July and we decided to do some day hikes. This bit of excitement happened while trekking in the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. One of the more accessible “Fourteeners” (14,000 feet above sea level = 4,270 meters) is a peak known as Mount Bierstadt. Summertime in the Rockies can bring sudden hail and thunderstorms. We were nearing the tree-line and about to head into the Alpine zone, when out of the blue, we saw a flash across the sky and instantly heard the crack of thunder together with an even louder BOOM! Lightening followed so closely by thunder is an indication that the lightening strike is very close. Continuing up the trail, we rounded the bend and saw the remains of a giant spruce that had been struck by that bolt of lightening. The tree had been blown apart and the stump was on fire, though the heavy downpour, a mix of ice and rain, was dousing the flames. We decided it would not be a good day to approach the summit. In a lightening storm the worst place to be is above the tree-line, because you become the tallest object in an open space and an attraction for the lightening.

This link has some valuable info in the event you find yourself inside a burning building.

There are 3 types of fire. It is important to understand this and to know which fire extinguisher is appropriate for the type of fire that you are confronting. Fire extinguishers are rated according to their use. An extinguisher that is rated A contains mono-ammonium phosphate and is strictly limited for use against wood, cardboard, paper, trash, most plastics and textiles. An A extinguisher contains liquid. For grease fires, oil based paints, gasoline, kerosene and other flammable liquids an extinguisher rated B will suppress the fire using a combination of mono-ammonium phosphate and bicarbonate of soda. Throwing water on a grease fire is a very bad idea. It will only cause the fire to spread. Any chef will tell you that baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) will smother a grease fire, but be sure you don’t grab the baking powder because that can cause the fire to flare up. For live electrical fires is is vitally important to use an extinguisher rated C. The use of water on an electrical fire may result in electrocution! There is also an extinguisher rated D but these are generally for use in commercial laboratories that deal with flammable minerals like magnesium, potassium or titanium.

Two A-B-C extinguishers.  On the left is a 10 pound and on the right a 5 pound.

Two A-B-C extinguishers. On the left is a 10 pound and on the right a 5 pound.

For ease of use and reliability against all of the most common household fires, I recommend the multipurpose, dry chemical extinguisher with an A-B-C rating.

Here is a link with instructions for a home-made fire extinguisher. It may be a fun experiment for kids in science class, but personally, I would not want to rely on a home-made concoction in an emergency. Fighting fire is a serious matter and expediency is essential to prevent a small fire from turning into a raging inferno. I use only A-B-C extinguishers in my home and I keep one in each bedroom, 1 in the kitchen and 2 in the garage.

In this link you can learn how to operate a fire extinguisher and more information with pictures here.

Surviving a fire in a hotel. It is always important to have a plan. After you check into your room it is a very good idea to look for the exits and know which way you will go in the event of a fire or other emergency.

If you have Pets fire safety is an important consideration.

Finally, a word about arson.

Stay safe.



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