Here’s a lesson two boys out in Starhill, the rural community where my folks live, learned today: be careful driving that fancy new go-kart you got for Christmas. If you try stunt-driving it around a field of tall grass, it might flip over, and oil may leak out of the hot engine and set the grass on fire. This may cause your go-kart to burn to a crisp, and could even cause a big fire that could burn down houses.
Thank goodness no houses were burned today, and volunteer firefighters were able to contain and extinguish the fire before it got out of hand. But it was a close thing. I was on my dad’s back porch this afternoon talking to him when I smelled smoke in the air. We didn’t think much of it, until a few minutes later, when a Starhill fire truck driven by Ronnie Morgan and Brutus The Fire Dog came barreling up the road, and stopped at the end of my dad’s driveway.
Turns out that the fire was in a field that was inaccessible by road. Before long, there were four fire trucks parked in our driveway, and a bunch of volunteer firemen trying to figure out how to get to the fire, which was about half a mile away. There were a couple of mudholes that would have to be driven through to reach the burning field, and there was no way those heavy trucks could make it without getting bogged down. Meanwhile, the light wind was spreading the fire.
I drove a neighbor’s son home, and figured I would head on into town and do the errands I needed to do. This is a job for trained firemen, I thought, and I’m not a trained fireman.
Then I thought: What the hell is wrong with me? There is a grass fire that could burn down houses in Starhill, and the men aren’t sure how to fight it. They might need my help, however poor that might be.
I turned the car around, drove back, parked next to the fire trucks, and headed out across the field with my son Lucas to see what we could do. By the time we got near the fire, we saw men filling buckets with water from a pond, then ferrying them to the fire on four-wheeler racks. We helped with that for one round, but by then, the fire was nearly out. It had burned a couple of acres, I’d say, but the firefighters — all volunteers, note well — had stopped it before it got out of control.
It’s awesome to think about how those men came running, and overcoming a huge obstacle — namely, the inability to get the trucks within a half-mile of the fire — still extinguished the thing before it threatened houses.
I learned a little something about myself too. It was interesting to see how quickly I defaulted to the stance of that’s somebody else’s job. Putting out the fire, that is. Mind you, if this had been a house fire, there’s no way someone like me, who hadn’t been trained (as these volunteers have been), would go barreling up in there with a hose. But on this grass fire, there was something I could do, and Lucas and I were willing to do it. I thought later about how living in a place like this doesn’t give you the ability to see things like that grass fire, and to outsource taking care of it to other people. I mean, you can do that if you like, but you would hate yourself if you did. Or you ought to, if you are able-bodied, with the ability to do something to help, no matter how trivial.
Strange how we compartmentalize charitable works. We tell ourselves that we don’t have to do X, because there’s a government agency, or some other official, or semi-official, institution whose job it is to handle these things. And yet, there is still need for direct, personal involvement. Maybe the need is not just among those who are suffering or in danger, but also within ourselves — to not simply be a passive spectator, but an active participant.
This happened last year here too, when the Blue Horse Saloon burned. Lucas and I are not a bad team.