Friday, January 05, 2007

Fire! (2)

So I’m back up the hill.

Up by the water tanks, and yes there were several hoses. I had left sprinklers sitting in the asparagus bed (1500 asparagus plants) with the hoses still attached, so it was just a matter of disconnecting the hoses, dragging them down the hill and reconnecting them to the faucet sticking out of the ground in the front yard. Fifty some feet from the fire.

And then, or is it by then, the pvc pipe that comes down from the tanks goes under field, under the front yard, under the house and comes up again over in the greenhouse had melted where it sticks out in the greenhouse and the water was running out on the ground.

Fortunately I had put in a cut off valve down hill from the front yard faucet so I shut off the water running on the ground and after hooking up the hose turned on the faucet.

Then I walked the hose toward the fire.

It was hot and it was just a garden hose. I sprayed some water on the end of the house but all the while those tanks, those propane tanks were exploding and it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to make much of a difference putting out that fire with a garden hose.

I dropped the end of the hose on the ground between the fire and the house and walked back up the hill again. Back up toward the tanks.

With those propane tanks going off, shooting flames into the sky, I didn't really think it was all that smart ot be standing there. And besided, what good was I doing.

When I back up the hill I did hear a siren. It seemed to be down on the bottom road. Maybe past the turn off toward our house. Were they lost? I looked down the driveway and didn’t see anything.

So I stood on the hill and watched, and waited.

And right about then things started happening.

First, here came a pick up truck. A little red one.

It pulled up next to me, parked off the road and this guy, a guy I recognized as someone who hunted on property across the road. He got out and walked over and looked down at the house.

“Some fire you have there. I heard the explosions and though someone was up here hunting. It sounded like a rifle shot. Is there anything I can do?”

Then came a ATV. One of those little carts with huge tires. Riding it was neighbor. The one that lived all the way at the end of the valley.

He parked his vehicle too. Came up to me, said hello to the hunter and then looked down to the fire.

“Is there anything I can do".

Then the first fire truck. it didn’t come roaring up the drive and one might have expected. Instead it came down the road at a creep. A firefighter walking in front, carrying a long pole, pushing the overhanging treelimbs out of the way. As though he was pulling back the limbs from the trees and bushes along the way. Protecting the fire truck from any scratches it might get.

The truck stopped down by the chickens, still a good thousand feet away from the fire, and several fire fighters climbed out of the back. kids all dressed up in their firefighting gear and they began unrolling long sections of fire house from the truck and placing it along the roadside.

The limb mover left the truck and walked up to us, taking off his helmet.

"Is this where the fire is?" he asked.

Then a truck from a fire company over in the next county. A tanker truck. Another fire truck. Then the command vehicle from the county we live in and about then I lost count. There were fire trucks and fire fighters everywhere. Parked out in the field. Hose every where. Thousands of feet of it. Running down the road. Across the fields.

A group of young firefighters had a hose down by the fire, connected up to the tanker truck and they let go with a steady stream of water. 5000 gallons just like that.

And there wasn't any watet left.

"We're trying to get some more back here.

That's when I told someone in charge about the water in my irrigation tanks and we were walking up tyhe hill, half a dozen of us and we were unrolling my irrigation hose and connecting it up to the tanks and running the hose down to the tanker truck and running that water down the hill.

The sun had set. It was rapidly getting dark out.

More was being sprayed on the fire and all the time the propane tanks were still going off like roman candles. One, two, three.

By then there were other tanker trucks with water being pumped down the road through hundreds, probably thousands of feet of hose and more was being sprayed on the fire. Five thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand. And I was going through the house with a couple firefighters, a boy and a girl (when you get to be my age humans barely out of their teens are still boys and girls) and we were turning off breaker boxes and feeling the heat on the south wall, looking at the cracked glass and signs that the house had already caught. That there was fire in the walls.

”I think the house is going to go up,” one of them said to the other.

I grabbed my rechargeable flashlight from the wall and we were outside again and there was more water being sprayed on the fire and the gas tanks were still popping, one, two, three but maybe not as high as before.

I walked around and there were kids holding a hose out in the field where I’d grown garlic last year and the first firefighter, the one holding the nozzle couldn’t been more than half a dozen feet away from the burning tanks and more water was going on the fire.

Someone was asking if the gas company had been contacted yet.

“We need someone that knows how to cap those tanks.”

I asked one of my neighbors who was running around what time it was. I have to leave in an hour to pick Wenonah up at the train station.

I’m standing out in the middle of a field with a firefighter. “I think it’s going. It’s so hot over there.”

“My house?”

“The house.”

“If that’s going to happen I need to go in and get my computer. I have ten years of manuscripts that are only on those computers.”

“No one is going to let you in there. Now now. It’s too dangerous.”

I just looked at him thinking that to let the manuscripts burn would be worst than anything I could think of.

Several firefighters were now right up against those gas tanks. If they reached out they could touch them, with the huge flames going into the air. This time they were spraying chemicals. A foam. Right on the burning tanks. If something went wrong they would stop existing.

My water tanks on the hill were empty. I was up on the hill closing the valves.

It was getting close to the time to drive and pick Wenonah up from the train. I should call her I was thinking. I needed a phone, but it was in the house.

Back down at the house, inside with the same male/female team. We’re in the unfinished kitchen and I turn on my flashlight and it strikes a box of found objects I had collected over the many years. Strange rocks, antlers, turtle shells. There’s a ram’s skull with a huge set of curled horns I had picked up while hiking on one of the Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara.

“Look at that,” the woman exclaimed. “That’s really neat. Where did you find it?”

I told her the story of stuffing it in my pack while hiking down a dried creek bed on the island, thinking as I did that she is showing her country roots. That and she’s the sort of woman who would want to be a volunteer fire fighter. I smiled and felt good about her. She reminded me of some of the kids I used to teach when I high school over in the valley. The sort of girl that skipped school along with the boys on the first day of hunting season.

Her companion told me that he thought the danger of the house bursting into flames had passed.

“It makes me wonder, though, what would have happened if you didn’t have the outside of the house stuccoed. Stucco and a metal roof is probably what saved the house.”

Outside I met one of my neighbors and I told him about my problem picking up Wenonah. “I don’t think I can get my car out the driveway. I hear there are more fire trucks down at the creek blocking the road.”

He offered to call up his wife to see if she could drop by the train station on the way home from work.

“It’s not out of her way. She’d be happy to do it.” We walked back u the hill, back to the tanks where you can get reception for a cell phone.

The fire chief asked me to come over to one of the trucks. “I have forms to fill out. Could you give me some information.”

He asked me the address. “Phone number? And what do you think the damage is?”

I just looked at him.

“Damage?” And shook my head. “I don’t even want to think about that.”

“I need to know for my report. $100,000?”

“I have no idea. What do you think?”

“About $100,000 you can tell me different later.

The fire was out of the tanks. They had foamed them and were spraying water, I guessed to cool them down. The guy who had me over to the truck asking questions and another officer looking type were down at the tanks looking at them. Standing right there. Gas was still coming out of the relief valve. I wondered what it would have been like if they had actually exploded instead of releasing gas through the relief valve. Even now there was a lot of gas coming out.

He called several of the kids over and they pushed over the first tank and rolled it down the hill.

“And let’s get this one to,” he said to the group of firefighters standing around. “Let’s roll it over there.”

And they did. Turned it over and rolled it down the hill. gas still shooting out of the valve.

The third tank was still standing, This one looked like it had suffered a lot of damage. The sides were all bent out as though something was inside trying to get out. Looking all the world like those pictures of snake eggs, the shell soft and pliable and the infant snake inside pushing and jabbing, attempting to break out to freedom.

When I finished watching the tanks being moved they were rolling up hose. Hundreds of feet of it. Kids were out on the driveway pulling in the hose that went all the way out the drive.

A pick up truck was coming in the driveway, slowly, avoiding the firefighters. It drove up in front of the house. Two men wearing slacks and polo shirts got out. On the side of the truck was the gas company’s logo.

I was again talking to the fire chief.

We were looking at the smokey pile of charred firewood. What had been ten cords was now a five foot tall pile of charcoal. There was still small flames flickering out of it here and there.

“We’ll be pulling out. With all the water we dumped out I don’t think anything is going anywhere.”

I looked at the flames with skepticism but he was right. The ground was soaked. We were standing in mud. In the greenhouse the bails of potting soild were smoking. Some of them burning. The men with the pol shirts were down playing with the gas tanks. We were standing too far away to here what they were saying but they had some tools out. I couldn’t hear the gas escaping any longer.

“If you have any questions just call me.”

I could see the fire trucks leaving. There were only two left but even now, most of the hoses had disappeared, having been rolled up and carefully stacked in the trucks.

A car was coming in the driveway. The neighbors wife. I hadn’t told Wenonah about the fire. I had just sent the neighbor. She probably did. But what did she know?

They had the truck down in the field and were rolling the tanks up on the tailgate and from then up on the truckbed. I was walking past where the tanks had been. Where there was a fire, where the smoking wood and small fires still remained

As I walked by the house I looked up. The windows were cracked. The insulation had melted and was on the ground. Wenonah was coming in the gate. I was thinking that I needed to do something about the heat. There wouldn’t be any heat in the house.

And what about water. I needed to work on the water.


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