The Pony and I came up our gravel road Friday night with a cloud of black smoke looming several neighbors away. The wind was in our direction, but with a northern component. I told him it looked like any fire would have to jump the gravel road and get into the woods and sneak up behind us. That happened once before, when The Pony was a non-walking baby and Genius was a toddler. That time, I had to call Hick at his bowling league to come home and soak the house with the garden hose. Sometimes a cedar-sided home with a wraparound porch is not the best vessel for riding out a runaway forest fire.
That old fire was started by our teenage next-door neighbor. Her dad told her to burn the trash, and she left the barrel unattended. A spark got into their woods, which it kindly shared with our woods, which only needed a ten-foot jump onto a wooden playset and another ten-foot hop onto our porch. Neighbor was toiling away with a garden hose, digging a trench, trying to keep it contained when I called Hick. Hick ordered me to call the fire department if I saw flame through the smoke. So I stood on the concrete behind the garage (cedar-sided as well) in a late-fall swirl of hickory smoke, jiggling The Baby Pony on my shoulder, watching Genius run around pushing his "wheebarrow." That was after I backed our Ford Aerostar out of the garage, after loading both kids in it, because nothing is ever simple when you have a toddler and a lap baby. Our means of escape was ready if we needed it.
The problem was that Neighbor had not purchased a fire tag. To call the fire department would result in him being billed for all expenses involved in fighting the fire. To add insult to economic injury, the fire department would not put out his house if it was on fire. But they WOULD keep our house from burning, because we bought a fire tag. So it was not a simple decision. Save our house at the risk of bankrupting Neighbor, or risk our house to save Neighbor a bill which he could not afford? Hick said a 25-year friendship was not worth losing our less-than-a-year-old house. Call them if I needed them. I had the phone in my hand.
Hick arrived and jumped into the woods with our own hose. He wet down the playset and back porch, then the trees closest to the yard. He helped with the trench. Lucky for us (and Neighbor), the wind dropped, the fire burned down to the creek and stopped, and didn't jump the trench.
That's life in Backroads. You have to buy a rural fire tag every year to be protected by the fire department. It's due July 1 each year. They put up billboards on the way out of town. Everybody knows. It used to be $50 per year, but now it's $70. That's per piece of property. We have ten acres with our house, and another ten acres about a half mile away on the gravel road that town people use to cut through. AND we bought the ten acres next to our house property about five years ago. Hick says since it adjoins and has no street address, it should not need a separate tag from the house. I hope he's right.
That's $1500 minimum that we've spent on fire protection since we moved out here. To me, it's well worth the money. Because you never know when some nut is going to toss a lit cigarette out his window while he's sucking down a cold Busch on his way home from work while he's cutting five miles off his commute on our private roads. What am I going to do with $1500? My money is taxed when I earn it, taxed when I save it, taxed when I buy something, and taxed when I bequeath it to my offspring. I might as well fritter it away on peace of mind. It's not like I can earn cash as a singing waiter and have my wife save it for my kids Francie and Neeley in a tin-can bank nailed to the floor of the closet. Oops! That was Johnny Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
My point is: you can cut corners with some expenses, but not with the chance of losing your house (or life) in a fire. Or being responsible for somebody else losing their house. Because you don't have the option of saying, "Oh, here's my $70, now save my house, please," when the fire department arrives. They will stand by and watch it burn, and bill you for the trouble. They will, however, stop the fire from spreading.
This tale has grown lengthy, so I will share details of the current fire tomorrow.