The four letter word that brings fear to everyone, but hits especially hard to horse owners on rural farm property.
The smell of smoke in the dog days of summer is so out of place and unexpected that you question your nose and doubt the olfactory glands that are shooting adrenalin throughout your neurological system: FIRE!
Quickly, you instinctively move towards the closest window, pressing flesh against window screen, breathing deeply through your nose to convince yourself you really aren’t smelling smoke on this breezy summer morning. Not trusting just one of your five senses, your eyes uncontrollably scan all within your line of sight for any sign of smoke. Locking in, blinking hard twice just to make sure it isn’t just early morning mist, there it is, it really is: Smoke.
There is no use talking yourself out of it at this point as your hand reaches for the phone to dial 911 – and then your eyes capture what you feared most – five foot high flames licking through a neighbor’s brush pile – FIRE. But wait, you can also see people walking around it. This was an intentionally started burn pile.
Calculating the time that a spark would take to reach the fifty feet into your dried out, extremely flammable pasture, within one hundred feet where your horses are quietly eating their hay, and then another hundred feet to your barn, you hesitate no longer, as your finger pushes the 9 and the 1 and the 1.
Already your brain is thinking of the details necessary to relay calmly before the ringing is answered. Good thing, because fear is rising… just one spark, just one minute of hesitation, and there could be a life changing situation for many whose dry, dry pastures surround that one. Your mind pictures the results from an oh-so-easily-made error in judgment – the blackened land, smoldering buildings, acrid sweet smoke smell everywhere, permeating everything. You’ve smelled it before and you cannot ever forget that smell.
I run out to the barn and find myself holding my breath until I finally hear the sounds of the engine driving up the road. Thankfully, no sirens necessary on this quiet holiday morning. That reassuring sound alone was enough that I could breathe again. The fire fighters, always at the ready, would now step in and take care of things.
I could relax.
I could go and gather my horses at my leisure from their yellowed brittle pasture.
I could ride them in fresh clean air.
And I did.
Why did I not hesitate even though I never want to have to dial a 9 and a 1 and a 1? It’s because I have been around fire – probably more than most. And the last time my brain didn’t register and relay to my hands to make that call, I came out of the shower with fire engines in my driveway. Lesson learned. Today, I called.
Why did I not just run over to the neighbors myself? I haven’t met them before. I knew if I did I would be a raving hysterical “where is the hose” “are you crazy” “what were you thinking?” lunatic. Probably not the best way to handle this serious of a situation with an unknown neighbor, with what may have been an inadequate water supply and skills.
Why do I think they did it? I think they are probably city folk relatively new to country life. It was a cooler morning, overcast even and I think they just didn’t think about the consequences and ramifications. Can’t we say that about so many of the mistakes we make in life? It is just nice to know that sometimes, we have someone aware enough and watching over us, to help us out, by dialing a 9 and a 1 and a 1.
Thank you to my first responders: my firefighters, who spend their lives waiting to help someone like me, so I can breathe again.