Ugh … fire … bad |

Ugh … fire … bad

Andrew Gmerek

Growing up in the suburbs, you just never expect to get a call like the one I received four years ago.

“Hey Andrew, it’s your neighbor, Tom, and I thought I’d better warn you that there is a brush fire heading straight toward your house. You might have to pack up some things and get out of there fast.!”

Huh? What? Wildfire?

At the time, I was still relatively new to mountain living, and I was only prepared to deal with the more mundane, suburban-type threats. Threats like breaking and entering, baseballs through picture windows, loud and obnoxious neighbors crashing family cookouts and neighborhood dogs using my yard as a lavatory, those I could deal with. A wildfire heading directly for my house, however, scared me speechless.

Luckily for me, my neighbors, with the help of the local volunteer fire department, snuffed out the fire using blankets and garden hoses. But in the end, I know it could have turned out differently.

The fire started after a group of good old boys decided it was time for a bonfire. They built the fire upwind of my house during a rip-your-shorts-off-and-send-them-to-Kansas kind of windy day and were surprised when their party was busted up when the neighborhood caught fire.

Which just proves that a lot of the fire danger in the High Country comes, not only from dry conditions, but also from folks I like to call “backcountry bunglers.”

We’ve all dealt with people that are not used to living or touring in the mountains. These are the people who leave their dog’s or cat’s food – as well as their garbage – outside, and then frantically call the Division of Wildlife when their homes are surrounded by cantankerous bears hell bent on busting through windows for good eats.

These are same people, who, thinking that moving to the mountains means wide-open spaces for both them and Fluffy and Spot, leave their pets to run free. Little do these pet owners realize that leaving their pets to roam the woods puts the pets directly onto the bottom rung of the food chain. Fluffy and Spot soon discover they are breakfast for coyotes and golden eagles.

It is these same people who toss lit cigarette butts out of car windows, causing people like me to scream, honk and curse. And these people will do this insane and dangerous act just after passing a sign that reads, “High fire danger. No open fires.”

It is also these people who seem to surround my mountain home.

Just last year, during a time of extreme fire danger, I was once again horrified by the stupidity of my fellow man. A construction crew finishing up a house down the street from mine decided to burn scrap materials in a big fire pit instead of hauling the extra wood away, completely ignoring the numerous signs that spelled out the fire danger in our area.

Once again the volunteer fire department was called – God bless and love them – and they put out the fire and patiently explained to the Neanderthals the danger of playing with fire. I think I overheard one of the firemen say,

“Fire bad. Fire a no-no.”

What this all means, of course, is mountain homeowners need to force the government to set up booths on all major highways entering the mountains. At these booths, campers, tourists, smokers, teen-agers and anyone with a cooler full of beer will be forced to take a test to see if they truly understand the fire danger in the High Country. If a visitor – or local – fails the exam, then he or she will have to remain in the suburbs where danger is confined to destructive baseballs and dog poop.

Andrew Gmerek is a weekly columnist for the Summit Daily News.

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