I seem to have a bad relationship with fire.
I should immediately add that nothing terrible has happened. Nothing burned down, and everything is fine.
But if I wasn’t quick, I could have had a much worse story to tell.
My poor relationship with all things flammable goes back to 1995. I was camping with my friends in Saugatuck, MI. It was a different group of friends that I camp with today. Back then the campground was a lot smaller, and had many less amenities. I was alone at our campsite one day and decided to start my miniature “Smokey Joe” grill to make some lunch, so I threw some charcoal on it and lit it. After the flames seemed to die down a bit, I threw the grill on top and stepped away to use the bathroom and take a shower.
Dumb idea #1 – Walking away from a flaming grill. It still hadn’t completely died down, and I left the lid off to let it “breathe.”
Dumb idea #2 – Not throwing away the now-empty charcoal bag.
Dumb idea #3 – Doing all of this so close to my tent.
You can see where this is going. After my shower, I walked back to the campground, where I saw a few of my friends milling around. The loudest, queeniest one of the bunch saw me and came running up to me. “OH GIRLLLL!” he shrieked. “Your TENT burned DOWN! Where have you BEEN!?”
I said “I was just in the bathroom! How bad is it?”
When I got there, I saw it wasn’t quite as bad as he had claimed, but it was bad enough. The charcoal bag had somehow blew onto the hot grill, started on fire, and then blew onto my tent. My brand-new, just-out-of-the-box tent. And it burned a hole in the corner of the tent, and subsequently burned my sleeping bag and air mattress inside. Everything else was fine– my clothes and other supplies hadn’t been touched. But I was definitely without a tent, and most certainly the talk of the campground– and certainly my friends — for a very long time after that.
That Christmas, my mom got me a fire extinguisher; both as a gift and as a joke. Thank goodness she has a good sense of humor.
Cut to today, almost 14 years later (ouch).
I had taken out my shoe polishing supplies to start polishing my badly-scuffed brown shoes.
When I was a kid, my dad would take nearly-empty or dried-out shoe polish cans, combine the cans together in one, and light the polish aflame. The polish is highly flammable and melts, and allows it to combine together and become somewhat usable again. When the polish was sufficiently melted (you don’t want it to burn too long or it will scorch), he would slip the lid on top to put out the flames.
As an adult, I have carried on this “tradition”. It works well, and I’ve never had any problems– until today.
I combined the half-empty cans together, lit it aflame, and then tried to slip the lid on top– but my hand slipped and the burning polish poured all over my desk. I immediately jumped up, went into the kitchen, grabbed the fire extinguisher that my mom had bought me in 1995 off the wall, pulled the pin, and in seconds the fire was out.
I had never used a fire extinguisher before. In fact, up until about a month ago, the extinguisher I had was buried deep in my broom closet. I decided that day it was time to actually mount it to the wall so it was ready to use. I’m glad I decided to do that. I also discovered that my smoke alarms — both of them– work very well. They went off almost immediately after I put the fire out.
No damage was done, thankfully. The fire never spread any further than the polish itself. But let me tell you, it was a bitch to clean up. The extinguisher emitted a fine white powder, and it got EVERYWHERE. But man am I glad I had it.
So the moral of the story is this– don’t play with fire. Don’t do things just because your dad did them. And please, please, PLEASE… get a fire extinguisher and mount it up so it’s ready to use. This story could have ended a whole lot worse if I hadn’t done that.