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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Little boy who cried... FIRE!

Yesterday evening, shortly after I got home from work, our seven-year-old Yonah was sitting on the couch resisting all my  efforts to coax a description of his day.  You see, he had a bit of a headache from not having drunk enough water on a hot sunny day of playing outside.

Suddenly, mid-grunt, Yonah perked up and blurted out, "I smell something burning!".

We didn't pay much attention to the non sequitur, since for one, Yonah is the master of the non sequitur... and for another, the farmers who tend the vineyards in the valley behind our house often burn old vines and leaves  (both to dispose of them, and also to raise the pH of the soil with the ashes).

But after he'd repeated that he smelled smoke a couple of times it occurred to me that this wasn't the season for burning old vines and leaves.  That would come only in the late fall after the harvest was finished.

So with Yonah at our heels, Zahava and I went out onto our back balcony to see where the smell was coming from.

To our shock, there was a thick column of smoke rising from some unseen spot further down the slope of the valley directly behind our next door neighbor's home, and small tongues of flame were occasionally jumping into view. 

I quickly called the emergency numbers and reported the fire... and while I was on the phone with the dispatcher, I saw several teenagers running from the site of the fire screaming something to one another... so I added to my report the fact that there might be more kids in or near the area of the fire.

While we waited for the fire department to arrive, Zahava called our neighbors to alert them, and I went out back with Gilad to see if we could get a better view of the situation from the back of our property.

By the time we got to the back edge of our yard, the column of smoke had broadened in all directions, and the roar of flames was clearly audible from the valley.  The fire was spreading quickly; feeding on the tinder-dry brush in the valley. 

Zahava reached one of the neighbors (two doors down) but our next door neighbor answered his cell phone in a town two hours away.  I got on the phone with him and asked if he had a hose in his back yard. 

Our back yard is a tangle of weeds with which we have somehow never gotten around to doing anything productive.  But our neighbor's yard is a beautiful green paradise with fruit trees, grape vines bordered with thick bushes of honeysuckle.

He said that he had a small garden hose, but that the pressure wasn't very good.  I quickly found it and started wetting down the bushes at the edge of his yard as best I could.

While I was doing so, I watched in horror as the fire grew exponentially by the minute... and by the time the fire fighters arrived, the entire valley was ablaze, and the flames were licking at the yard of the people two doors down from us.

I re-routed the garden hose to try to wet down the garden and grape vines two doors down, but before long, half of their yard was ablaze and the wind and heat were pushing me back towards the next door neighbor's yard.

The fire fighters yelled at me to get out of the way, and within moments a thick stream of water was beating back the fire from two direction.  So I went back to wetting down our neighbor's bushes; checking every few seconds to make sure the flames weren't getting close enough to warrant my having to leave.

The fire fighter's weren't happy that I, and a couple of other neighbors had remained in the back yards hosing down bushes, but since the flames didn't seem to be in imminent danger of entering the yards, they left us alone and did their heroic job of battling the blaze below.

By this time, the municipality security force had evacuated all the people from our street, so Zahava, the kids and Lulu (our dog) were on the next street up with the rest of our neighbors.

It took the better part of an hour, but the fire department finally brought the fire under control.  They continued to wet down the borders of the burnt area for another few hours and occasionally had to re-extinguish a small blaze that came back to life. 

By then, the people on the street had been given permission to go back to the houses, and I met Zahava out front.  One of the fire fighters who had been behind our house passed by as I was talking to Yonah and we told him that Yonah was the one who had first noticed the fire.  He smiled wearily and said "Kol Hakovod" (literally 'all the honor'... but roughly translates as 'great job').

As he continued walking, the firefighter motioned for me to go with him to the street above where an ambulance was waiting.  He said that as a precaution, all the people who had been in the area close to the fire were being required to sit and breath pure oxygen for a few minutes, just in case we had inhaled too much smoke.

I felt fine, but humored him and did my five minutes sitting on the bumper of the ambulance with the oxygen mask on.  Afterwards, I went back home and Zahava and I made a big fuss over our little hero Yonah; the boy who cried FIRE!... all the while doing that nervous act parents do when they don't want their kids to know just how shaken up they are.

I'm writing this at 5:30AM... and the entire neighborhood still reeks of smoke.

Posted by David Bogner on July 5, 2011 | Permalink

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Glad everyone is OK:the origins of the fire need to be investigated.

Posted by: ED | Jul 5, 2011 10:18:16 AM

ED... They have been (in a preliminary manner) and it is pretty clear that the teeneagers I mentioned seeing at the start of the fire had been down in the valley smoking a water pipe (Nargila), and it tipped over setting the nearby brush alight.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 5, 2011 10:25:14 AM

Yonah the Fire Fighters' Hero!!! Thanks for helping to save the neighborhood, young man. Always nice to find out that G-d has given you a special gift from which other people can benefit. I love how Hashem doles out talent, so none of us has it all.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jul 5, 2011 12:23:59 PM

How frightening!

Posted by: Henya | Jul 5, 2011 12:44:24 PM

"Kol Hakovod" (literally 'all the honor'...

All the honor. I like that. Well done, Yonah, well done!

Kudos to you too, Trepp, for manning the garden hose!

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Jul 5, 2011 3:52:12 PM

Wow. Kol ha'kavod indeed.

But so scary.

Posted by: uberimma | Jul 5, 2011 5:13:13 PM

Two things - first of all, thank G-d you're all right, and kudos to Yonah for saving the day.

Second - wasn't a Nargilah the cause of the big fire up north earlier this year? Maybe there should be stronger regulations for smoking those things.

Posted by: psachya | Jul 5, 2011 8:04:51 PM

Good on Yonah!

Is "Kol Hakovod" the phrase used in "all glory and honor to You" in the old prayers?

Posted by: Foxfier | Jul 5, 2011 8:59:45 PM

Glad everyone is okay.

Having a nose for fire is VERY USEFUL, indoors and out. Tell Yonah to keep observant like that!

Posted by: Maureen | Jul 5, 2011 9:50:51 PM

interesting juxtaposition of the 2 posts.
seems to me yonah is going to be just fine.

Posted by: fred | Jul 5, 2011 11:27:53 PM

Looks like there's gonna be a lot of birkat ha-gomel going around. Thank God.

Kol ha-kavod to Yonah -- and to you.

Posted by: Rahel | Jul 6, 2011 11:13:54 AM

Kol Hakavod Yonah! He should get a personal-sized firefighter hat or coat or pin or something! And good on you for listening to him. We dismiss the smaller folk so often, with the best of intentions. So glad that no one was hurt, and the damage wasn't worse.

Posted by: Alissa | Jul 6, 2011 3:48:18 PM

Hey, I forgot you live in my neighborhood (or, vice versa)! We smelled smoke and at first I thought it was an al-ha-esh. Then I realized that it was too pervasive, and I went outside of my son's apt. A neighbor said there's a fire near the shul (my son's shul, Tiferet Avot), and mechabei eish are there and telling everyone to close their windows. So we did. Good job to your Yonah, for warning everyone that something was burning.

Posted by: Lady-Light | Jul 6, 2011 5:17:23 PM

glad everyone is ok

Posted by: roberti | Jul 6, 2011 6:08:35 PM

A public service announcement from a former wildfire investigator. Something for everyone, no matter where you live.

The pamphlet below gives some good tips on how to make your yard and house resistant to wildfires. Of special note is the list on the right-hand side of the first page that lists shrubs and trees that are fire resistant. Of course that list is for Florida, but KKL-JNF or your local forestry office outside of Israel should be able to help you determine what native plants would serve the same purpose. In any case, get rid of the weeds out in Turdistan. :)

http://www.floridadisaster.org/publications/english_firewise.pdf

One other thing. Everyone should be careful about fighting a wildfire, even what appears to be a small brush fire. Once a fire begins to run, it's going wherever it wants and anyone who is in the way will be in trouble. A fire can outrun you and even a small fire can flare up to a really big one in an instant. All it takes is some wind or heavy fuel for a fire to flare up. And the most dangerous place to be is uphill of a fire, because the fire is burning into fuel. The fire in Carmel that killed all those prison guards burned uphill to the road where their vehicles were stopped.

I'm not trying to sound like an alarmist, but we had two forest rangers burned over and killed in a wildfire two weeks ago. Those guys were trained wildland firefighters, equipped with Nomex clothing and fire shelters. It did them no good when they got caught. Two women who are now widows, young children without fathers and two closed casket funerals. It's not worth it. If fire personnel tell you to evacuate, please do it. Your house can be rebuilt, but you are irreplaceable.

Karl

Posted by: Karl Newman | Jul 10, 2011 9:13:02 AM

כל הכבוד to Yonah!

Karl is, of course, right. I've worked medical support on fire lines, and the way a fire can turn and spread is truly astounding. The fire outside Los Alamos two weeks ago spread 40,000 acres (no mistake on the number!) overnight. And over 60 homes in the forest were lost, while the national labs were shut down for a week. Fires can really be unpredictable, even to the more experienced firefighters.

I'm glad you're all okay!

Posted by: Mordechai Y. Scher | Jul 18, 2011 4:18:44 PM

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