Friday, August 23, 2013


What could be more welcoming than a warm glow in the fireplace or sitting around a campfire with your friends? Yet, what could be more devastating than seeing your home go up in flames?

It can happen in minutes. We had dinner with friends near Sun Valley. They have a lovely, spacious logwood home. After dinner we watched the Idaho forest fires bellowing smoke over the distant mountaintops. The setting sun resembled a red tomato. 10,000 acres had burned down already. “The fire wouldn’t come down here, would it?” we wondered.

Next day, Highway 20 was closed; the fire had jumped across it. Sun Valley’s air was thick with smoke. Some smoke had hung in the air for days, but now it was intense. With a heavy heart I said good-bye to my children and returned to California.

At home the phone rang. “We’re in Black Butte,” one of my daughters said, “we got pre-evacuation notices and moved things into storage all day. Do you remember the house of our friends where we had dinner on your last evening here? We saw her canyon from a distance—it looked like a volcano, bright orange, yellow and red! Days later it was confirmed, their lovely home with all mementos and treasures was devoured in the inferno. Even though Helicopters and firefighter had been working around the clock to battle the blaze, nothing, absolutely nothing, was left but the base of three lonely chimneys. Apparently, the wind had picked up during the night and shifted. It happened with raging violence and with enormous speed, the smoke getting so hot that it ignited spontaneously.”

I wanted to learn more about fire and signed up for the CERT program, an emergency training program that also covers fires. It’s a superb course and an eye-opener for me. Empty an ashtray into a wastepaper basket, the ashes continue to smolder and create smoke. It takes two and a half minutes for the smoke to build up and heat sufficiently to bursts into flame. In another two minutes the smoke near the ceiling can reaches 800 to 1,400 degrees and set whole room aflame. If windows and doors are closed, there’s no sign of fire from the outside until one of the windows explodes and smoke and flame leap outside and enter other open windows. In another five minutes, nothing will be left of the house.

Winter, the major season for home fires, is around the corner. Can you name three major culprits? They are chimneys, free standing heaters and electrical overload. Chimneys that have not been cleaned are particularly dangerous. You light a fire in the evening. When it’s totally out, you go to bed. Yet the soot in the chimney will smolder for hours. If there’s enough of it, it will burst into flame and set the attic afire.

With dismay I heard the instructor refer to extension cords, which I dearly love and often use, as highly unsafe. “They are nothing but temporary fixes”, he said. If covered by a rug, they fray and cause fires. If too many gadgets are plugged into an outlet, it causes an electrical overload. Older homes are particularly vulnerable since they were not designed for today’s high power demand for all the gadgets we own. Consult an electrician; he may avert a disaster.

One last tip, never use water on a kitchen fire. Especially when your frying pan is aflame—water will explode the grease into your face! Why? Because grease is lighter than water. The heavy water dislodges and disburses the hot grease into the air.

And then there’s another kind of fire—the fire that turns friendship into love, and love into long lasting friendship, blessed with understanding, sharing and forgiving. May this kind of fire light and brighten your life.

Until next time,