I like a little excitement in my life, but not the kind I had last week.
Our neighborhood is unusual. Most of the development was built 50-60 years ago when homes were smaller and families owned one car. A farm, its farmhouse and it’s fields remained in the area for quite awhile. When the land was later sold, the property was developed into it’s own part of the neighborhood with three streets and newer, bigger homes. We live on a street where the first newer houses were built, which is parallel to a street with older homes and our back yards meet. The land is on a hill. so the houses on our street sit higher than those behind us and its easy to see into the yards of backyard neighbors. Many of the homes are what some may consider “starter homes”, so there may be a succession of owners of some homes while others may be retained as rental property. Those homes are nice for their era and well maintained. Where we’ve ended up is in a nice home in a nice neighborhood near town and within walking distance to parks and schools. We live close to our church and where Mr. Legs works. This convenience is why we remodeled for accessibility instead of moving.
When a new neighbor moved in behind us some months back, he really went to town cleaning up his yard. There was a lot of dead brush and it needed to be taken care of. Just behind our privacy fence there were thick bushes. Although they could be a nuisance for us because they had to be cut periodically when they grew through the fence, they provided a nice buffer and element of privacy between our properties. He cut them all down. He also cut major branches off some substantial trees. And he disassembled a good-sized rusted metal shed and the wooden base it stood on. The previous owner had cut a number of bushes and limbs down as well and had started the pile that the new owner added to. The pile of brush was HUGE, so impressive that I took pictures of it….probably 8-10′ high and 20′ long.
We hadn’t met him yet. I wondered how he was going to get all that brush hauled away. I wished I could have gone to his door a couple of weeks ago and let him know that there was a city-wide trash pickup (in case he didn’t know). That likely would have only put a dent in it, though. I figured that as the weather warmed, he would have to load it all in a truck to be hauled away.
The previous, previous neighbor (two owners before) had a burning barrel and would occasionally burn some branches. The neighbor between skipped the barrel. He formed some stones in a circle in the middle of the yard. The family would sit around it in the evening as branches were burned. It became more of a bonfire than a campfire. Did I mention this is a city lot? On at least two occasions, the branches were too wet, so he used gasoline to help them burn. When he added the gas, the flames would (as one would expect) suddenly and dramatically increase in size, creating large dancing orange and red flames and big plumes of smoke. As we lay in bed at night, the color and shape of the flames came through our bedroom window and were displayed on the wall as we tried to relax enough to fall asleep.
Still, I had no reason to think this new neighbor would light the present enormous pile of brush on fire. Yet he did. He actually did. Apparently his thinking was “why haul it when you can burn it?” When I let the dog outside I saw the smoke, felt the heat and realized the flames were way bigger than anything should be that close to my house in our city neighborhood. I went out on the deck to look.
The neighbor was there. He stood watching the fire grow with a stick in his hand. I wondered how the stick would control a fire should it get out of control. This was no time to think I should mind my own business. What was happening had BECOME my business, the neighbor had made it my business. Holy Toledo, the flames were high and it was windy enough to blow ashes and sparks. This is the ensuing conversation between me and the young, clueless, pyromaniac neighbor, heretofore known as YCPN.
Me: “HELLO!” (in a loud voice to get his attention)
YCPN: Turns head and lifts a hand just enough to acknowledge my greeting.
Me: Over the crackling of the flames, I shouted “Do you have a hose hooked up?”
YCPN: Yeah, it’s over there (over there was about 10-15 feet from where he was standing)
Me: I’m feeling pretty nervous.
YCPN: I have a permit.
Me: Continued look of anxiety while wondering why a permit mattered under the circumstances.
Neighbor: I hosed down your fence (about 10 feet from the fire).
Me: Watched flames grow and more concerned about my house than the fence.
YCPN: No audible words, only shrugged shoulders.
Me: It’s pretty windy.
YCPN: It wasn’t when I started.
Either I was overreacting or he was underreacting. There seemed to be a lack of understanding of and respect for the power of nature. I came inside and paced for a short time (in a scooter that means rolling in multiple directions with no particular destination). I sensed danger and felt a little panicky about the lack of concern from YCPN. There were people in the yard next to his – two women with two children. They were playing and then went for a walk, seemingly oblivious to the flames licking the too-close trees right next to their afternoon fun. I needed someone on my side, someone who would understand. I called the fire department. I told them the neighbor behind me was burning brush and had a very impressive fire. I explained that it was windy and our lots are close together. They asked where I lived. I responded with my address, but also with the street name behind me. I told them to “just look for the smoke”. They said they were coming. I went back out on the deck.
Me: Shouting again, I let him know…”I hate to meet this way, but I called the fire department.”
YCPN: Forearm and shoulder of one arm raised. He was now holding the hose with the other hand.
Me: You might want to use that hose on that tree over there, it’s smoldering where a spark landed.
YCPN: Calmly moves direction of head…raises and sprays hose.
The fire department came. I could hear voices, but had gone inside to be ready if they chose to come to my door first for some reason. They were with the fire and YCPN for awhile. After some time, a fireman (FM) did come to my door.
FM: I see you met your neighbor
Me: Smile and soft chuckle, then “yes”.
FM: He’s new here in town. He didn’t really know our rules here. …He does now!
He’s concerned he may have gotten off on the wrong foot.
Me: Smiling with eyebrows raised. “He’s young.”
Me: You have NO idea how big the pile of brush was.
FM: Oh, I think I have an idea…
Me: Not missing an opportunity to tell him, “It was 8-10’ tall and likely 20 feet long”
FM: There were things he didn’t share when he applied for the [burning] permit.
FM: He’s learned some things. He has some trees on fire in some places and might have to cut them down.
Me: So I did the right thing?
FM: Oh YES. We’re very glad you called.
So, I’m glad I called the fire department. So are they. The stress of confronting the neighbor, calling the fire department, worrying about my safety and that of my house, and wondering why nobody else seemed concerned caught up with me later.
Smokey the Bear has a slogan “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” I say all of us can prevent neighborhood fires.