Wednesday, April 10, 2013
One week ago today, I heard Mabel (Margaret and Michael's dog, who was at our house for doggie day care) barking like crazy. When I went to let her in, I saw a low-burning fire all along our back fence. It seemed to be in the neighbor's yard, which was filled with billowing white smoke. Next thing I know, the fire looked like it was on our side of the fence, licking at the base of a tree. (It was! We were left with a patch of scorched ground and trees after the fire was out.) I called 911. Then I went outside. The fire department was already there. I wasn't the only one to dial 911.
The neighbor was already telling his story to the fire investigator. He claimed he'd started raking leaves after getting home from work and that the first he knew of the fire was when he heard it crackling. A case of spontaneous combustion, according to him. My first thought was that he'd been burning leaves and had lost control of the fire. He seemed to be suggesting that it started in both our yards simultaneously, but most of the burn was on his side of the fence. Actually, before I even came out of our house, I'd seen a big flare-up on his side of the fence near his pile of leaves. The fire investigator wasn't exactly buying his story. He took me aside and questioned me about mischievous kids, neighborhood vendettas, etc. Meanwhile, a Pauline Bunyan of a fire woman, with a huge ax, was chopping up a smoldering woodpile along the fence of a third neighbor.
Phil was away at the time. When he got home, he said he'd seen the neighbor burning stuff in his back yard five or six times recently. He says he complained to me about it, but I must have tuned him out. Otherwise, I would have told the fire investigator. The investigator had left his card, so Phil called him. The house in question used to be a group home and we'd thought it still was, but the leaf-burner is apparently the new owner and has been living there since last summer. The fire investigator thanked Phil for the new information and said he'd go have a little chat with the neighbor about Rule # One: It is illegal to set an open fire in our county. In fact, the county had just issued a "red flag" alert that very day, which meant no fires of any kind due to dry conditions.