“Mommy, it looks like the neighbor’s garage is on fire!”
|Just a few hours before the fire. The garage is peeking out from behind the bushes and trees.|
There is shouting. People are very close to the building, frantically trying to do something. Are they trying to fight it? This is way beyond a garden hose or fire extinguisher sized problem. This blaze is not kidding around. A beautiful large-size pickup is so close to the building that it’s tail lights are probably melting. Screw the garage! Move the truck! The garage isn’t near any other important structures, so no houses are in danger as far as I can see.
It’s Saturday, May 26. Memorial Day weekend. It’s mid-afternoon on a nice sunny day. This morning we were running a yard sale. Now the neighborhood is in sudden chaos. I hear the wail of approaching fire engines. No, it sounds like an ambulance. Actually, it’s both. Eventually, it’s a lot of both.
Someone manages to move the pickup. It looks like people have pulled back and are getting out of the way of the professionals.
In charges the full suite of emergency vehicles. The firemen roll out their gear and a minute later they give the fire its first real argument. The roof has started to burn. I look at the fire, and at the surrounding trees, and suddenly the distance between the garage and everything else seems pretty small. This thing could actually get away from them.
I start to wonder what sorts of hardware might be in the garage. My neighbor Frank does arc welding and other sorts of mechanical tinkering. He owns a Bobcat. He owns a very large riding mower. The presence of a gas grill or a propane tank is not unlikely. The presence of extra fuel is almost guaranteed. I’ll bet there’s a good supply of oil in there as well. Geeze. Who knows what else?
The water does its job. The orange flames are replaced with billowing grey smoke, and the fire winks out. Everybody exhales.
The firemen move in to get a look inside the building. They let their guard down for a second, or at least aim their attention in the wrong direction. A burning stream, no more than a trickle, flows out of the mouth of the garage. Inside, Frank’s supply of fuel has gotten loose and begun to flow. The stream passes between the firemen and the truck, passing under their hose. It’s running between two groups of men. They can’t attack it unless they want to blast each other, which would probably just shove the burning liquid all over the place. A yell goes up and they retreat. They are on a mild hill, so the stream is moving pretty fast. It flows through the garden, setting the beautiful flowers and shrubs alight. They bring the water to bear, but by the time they halt the stream the garage fire has returned to full strength, and is perhaps larger than before. There must be an awful lot of fuel in there.
|I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, but my wife took this shot with her phone. I’m glad she did.|
One of the neighbors, a lovely woman and an octogenarian, is worked up and chattering about Frank being in the garage. She must be hysterical. The garage has the main door, a side door, and a few windows. If Frank had been in there he would have come out before the fire got too big. There are certainly plenty of escape routes.
The first fire truck runs dry but others are ready. The battle lines move frequently as they advance and retreat on the fire, constantly struggling to contain the rivulet of flaming drool that pours from the mouth of the building.
Out front, the two-lane highway has become a parking lot. There isn’t room to really pull over around here, so the ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars have parked on the road and brought the flow of traffic to a halt. Neighbors gather in the yard and stare helplessly. Everyone wants to help, but nobody can do anything. I’m inside with my kids, comforting them and explaining, as best as I can figure, what’s going on.
We can hear the muffled popping of small explosions coming from within the garage. These aren’t action-movie fireballs, but concussive blasts that probably mean more fuel has just been released. They keep coming. I’m glad the garage is made of large, solid bricks, so we don’t have to worry about shrapnel flying all over the place.
The firemen start using foam in place of plain water in an attempt to smother the flowing fuel fires. The beautiful pond where the ducks used to live is now a soup of water, fuel, foam, and runoff from the garage. Once in a while the surface of the pond begins to burn, and the firemen give it another dose of white suds. The garden has been obliterated in the crossfire of flame and high-pressure water. I’m glad the ducks are all gone; the last one was sold a couple of months ago. Still, I’m sad to see their home ruined. I’d hoped Frank’s wife would get more next year. My kids loved feeding the ducks.
The firemen seem able to contain the thing fairly well, but they can’t quench it. The fuel inside sustains it, and all they can do is fight a long stalemate until the fuel is exhausted. After a half hour or so some of the people trapped in traffic abandon their cars and walk through my yard to see what the fuss is about. There seems to be some safe radius which is silently understood by everyone. The crowd grows, but nobody speaks.
|The fire is out at last. Not much left. Foam everywhere.|
It ends. The crowd begins to thin. All that remains are the blackened brick walls and smoldering ashes. My wife, who was next door comforting the neighbor, comes home and gives me the news. Frank was in the garage.
This explains what the activity was outside before the emergency vehicles arrived, and why nobody moved the pickup at first. They were trying to find a way to get Frank out. I was naive in my thinking. From the outside it looked easy to get escape, but I’m sure inside things were very different. Maybe vehicles or shelves blocked the windows. Maybe an explosion knocked him out. In any case, then man is gone. He was 62.
I learn that Frank and his wife were in the garage when it started. He shoved her out the door to go call 911 while he tried to contain the fire. Nobody knows what happened after that. He was either trapped or incapacitated. By the time 911 was called the fire had grown too large for anyone to help him.
Two weeks later there is an enormous crater where the garage stood. There is a line of dead grass going from Frank’s pond, down the hill, and across several yards. It marks where the runoff from the fire has poisoned the ground. Big earth-moving vehicles have come in to remove the garage, the ruined equipment, and the tainted dirt. It’s a horrible mess. He spent so much time on the landscaping, and it’s really rubbing salt in the wound to see so much of his work destroyed now that he’s gone.
Crash Dot Com
Back in 1999, I rode the dot-com bubble. Got rich. Worked hard. Went crazy. Turned poor. It was fun.
Silent Hill Origins
Here is a long look at a game that tries to live up to a big legacy and fails hilariously.
What Does a Robot Want?
No, self-aware robots aren't going to turn on us, Skynet-style. Not unless we designed them to.
MMO Population Problems
Computers keep getting more powerful. So why do the population caps for massively multiplayer games stay about the same?
The Game That Ruined Me
Be careful what you learn with your muscle-memory, because it will be very hard to un-learn it.