Every once in a while I get the urge to set something on fire. It started young, before Lindsay was born and when Zach was still in elementary school. Mom took me to a flea market and I got to pick out a toy shot gun. It was tan and brown with an orange cork that made a noise as you pumped it out of the barrel, POP. I played with it all afternoon, brandishing it at my brother as we picked him up from school. Sometime between getting home from school and the weenie roast that night, I broke the gun. I was disappointed.
My parents had invited “company” over to a have weenie roast, I think. Maybe they just had a fire. While the adults were sitting outside in a few lawn chairs, I walked over to the fire. I stared into the flames for a few moments before I threw the broken toy into the fire. That’s the first time that I remember understanding what regret felt like. It wasn’t just regret, it was instant regret. I watched the gun begin to bubble as the heat melted the plastic. It was over in about a minute. I came crying to Mom and perhaps my vocabulary could not accurately describe my feelings, because she put me to bed. I don’t think I’ve burned anything that I was attached to since then.
Setting things on fire is part of a boy’s scientific method. It’s often the final step after an object has passed the claw hammer test and the water test. It’s a good idea to perform these scientific experiments outside, because some things burn at a quicker rate than you might be expecting. For instance, toilet paper. Toilet paper burns very fast. Carpet doesn’t so much burn as melt and discolor. You have take the scissors and snip out any burnt carpet and then rearrange your bedroom to cover up the burn sight. Or I’d imagine that’s what you have to do.
We set fire to a plastic hunting bow case once. The flaming plastic fell of into little drips of fiery napalm giving a distinct whistling sound as they fell into the fire ant beds that populated the ground around our house. I have never been able to duplicate that effect, but every time I get something plastic I give it a try.
As you may know, WD-40 is highly flammable. We read that on the can, but we just wanted to be sure. If you hold a lighter with one hand and spray the WD-40 into the flame with the other, it gives off the closest thing we could find to a flamethrower. But be careful to do this in small bursts, otherwise the flames will follow the stream back into the can. Actually, don’t do this.
There is nothing more fun to a boy than playing in the camp fire. That’s still my favorite part of camping, poking around in the fire with a stick. But camping was a special occasion and sometimes you need a fire when it’s not a special occasion.
“You boys pick up all the sticks in the backyard and put ’em in a big pile and we’ll have a fire.” Dad would bargain with us, using fire as a reward if we cleaned up the yard. Sometimes we’d burn off the kudzu patch in front of the house and shoot field mice with a .22 as they ran out of the burning, tangled kudzu. It was great fun.
My Uncle James Brasher enjoyed these kind of fires more than anything. He was always setting fire to the brush patch and then leaving it unattended. It adds to the excitement. He once set fire to a brush pile and then headed to the grocery store. While he was there, the volunteer fire department was roused and he decided to help them. He followed the fire truck all the way back to his own house, where his brush pile fire had gotten out of control.
Zach and I decided one day to burn off some of the kudzu patch next to our house without any adult supervison. In a drought. On a windy day. At it’s peak, the flames were at least thirty feet tall. It’s quite an exhilarating feeling to dial 911. After about three hours and two acres of ashes later the volunteer fire department finally showed up in the fire truck and the driver smarted off about missing his sister’s wedding or something. Volunteer work, it just doesn’t pay. By that time, we’d already contained the fire anyway. Dad was more upset about the fire truck driving over the field lines than the acres of scorched earth next to our house.