In which my husband tries to burn down the county

It all started with a trash issue. Then came the discovery of a recycling center that had us opening up our trash bags and sorting it all.

Is that an exciting job, let me tell you.

It did feel good to reduce the pressure on our dumpsters a bit as we loaded maybe a third of it into the minivan to drop off. Now this recycling “center” is nothing too snazzy. Basically, it is a large partitioned dumpster with labels for the different things you may drop off there, as if there were room to shove anything into its overflowing walls. Being unmonitored, it seems to have become somewhat of an informal dump site, as well.

And that is where I spied an old oil drum.

And that was the start of the troubles. I already new that a goodly portion of rural folk burn their trash, among other things. Nothing robs the sweetness of the morning air quite like the unmistakable smell of burning tires, after all.  I was not, however, quite sure where they got their burn barrels from. Surfing around, I learned MooBee got hers at the feed store, though not quite the color she wanted. Our feed store, however, only sells them with the oil still in them and it wasn’t quite worth the $500 price tag.

So we snarfed it up, being free and all. It was even that good color of rust that MooBee likes in a burn barrel. A few holes and it worked great.

My dear husband took care of most of the rest of the trash, as well as a few things he probably shouldn’t have burned, and I, well, I decided that it would be better for both of us if I just left him to it and paid as little attention as possible.

He was a Boy Scout, after all. They know how to play with fire, right?

Well, apparently not. I was busy loading kids in the car to take our guest home when he shouts to me that his coat is awfully nice to waste on the fire. I look at him quizzically for a moment before noticing the ring of fire outside the barrel. I ran inside and grabbed the first container I came across…a rather large dutch oven…and filled it with water from the tap. As I ran down the hill, it became obvious that I may as well have stood spitting at it as the fire had already doubled in size and the wind was blowing strong.

“I’m sorry,” he said somewhat helplessly.

Something in that forlorn, I-really-messed-up-big-time voice made it impossible to be upset, or even judgmental about the, uh, lack of fire sense that was obviously in place at the setting of this fire. That and something being wholly engrossed in trying to put the thing out drives out any other emotion.

“Water! The hose! Turn on the water!” I shouted in response.

He finally jumps and seems to be with me again rather than just standing, feeling guilty and ashamed.

Now, our outside water spigot leaks so it is turned off from inside. If not for this, I might have thought of it before going into the house for a pot of water. I ran back up the hill to untangle the hose, dousing myself with the stream of water. I didn’t really notice. Not until John grabbed the hose and I ran down the hill after him, water draining out of my coat sleeve.

The hose reached about half way.

“No water,” my husband mumbled.

And right there we both knew we were losing this battle.

“The blankets! Grab the blankets!” I shout.

I had two large quilts hanging over the step airing out. I threw the blankets under the hose and pulled out the cell phone as the children began to wonder what was taking so long. And where all the smoke was coming from. They began to appear from behind the garage and then suddenly were running to help.

Our guest held the hose, the children filled an assortment of containers. I gave directions to the lady on the phone while instructing the children to stay behind the fire. It was blowing hard to the north, but the fire was gradually creeping southward toward the barn as well. They seemed safe enough running water back and forth to the south edge and I just let them join the family fight against the blaze.

The blankets finally gave us something that seemed worthwhile. Up to this point, I’d dump water on a spot, stamp out the sparks and by the time I got back that bit plus some more would be in flames.  With the blanket, however, I could smother eight foot squares. I joined my husband at the head of the fire where it was threatening the treeline.

We did not want it there. With a thick carpet of dead pine needles, we figured it would go up like a torch.

The fire didn’t seem that bad until I stepped into. I was immediately overwhelmed by the smoke and the heat. Splashing the pot of water I had in one hand caused the fire to leap, singing my eyebrows. With closed eyes, I threw down the blanket, stamped it, grabbed it and ran back out, willing myself not to cough until I reached fresh air.

I tried once more and then left that fight to my husband who either could hold his breath longer than I could or had less of a general sense of self preservation.

My blanket and I moved to the western edge, where it was threatening the neighbor’s corn field and where I could keep a better eye on the children. I finally felt like I was making progress. The children were diligent in their task and it looked like the fire hadn’t gained any in that direction. With the wind at my side, I was able to breathe and the sections I put out stayed out. For a moment, I had a vague thought of maybe working myself across the fire and working back up toward my husband.


But the fire was getting awfully close to the tree line. Realistically, the best we could hope for was slowing its progress until the fire department arrived.

And when they finally did, I was more thankful than ever that the fire had not reached the trees. Why? Our fire truck consisted of the neighbor’s pickup with a tank of water in the back. It looked like something you’d more likely use to water your cattle than put out wildfires. But fortunately it was enough. I left the fighting to them, my husband doggedly fought on and it was over in less than ten minutes once water arrived.

“I’m sorry,” my husband said again when it was all over.

I laughed. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t upset. I didn’t feel forgiving because it didn’t really seem like there was anything to forgive. Instead, I was thankful. Incredibly thankful. It had been a rough weekend, one of those where seemingly nothing goes right. So instead of any accusations or even an offer of forgiveness, I asked the one question on my mind.

“How many things can go wrong without anything bad actually happening?”

He smiled, seeming to understand all that was contained in that. He knew as well as I that the furthest thing from my heart while loading the children in the car had been thankfulness. And now, with the renewed appreciation that comes with a bit of perspective, my heart was overflowing with it.

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15 Comments on "In which my husband tries to burn down the county"

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Yikes! This story reminds me of Pa from Little House on the Prairie saying, “All’s well that ends well.” I’m so glad it ended well.


Indeed it is. And so are we! There were actually a number of good things that came out of it, too, but the post was getting long enough as it was!


This story reminds me of when a neighbor knocked on our door to let me know he’d caught our front yard on fire and he needed to borrow the water hose. I had an 8 month old baby napping so I just stood in her room (in case we needed to make a quick escape) and watched him put out the fire.


Oh my! After it was over, our neighbor told us how he accidentally caught his neighbor’s pasture on fire in the time before cell phones. He knew it would be gone before he even got home to make a phone call and worried about the animals penned in!

Fortunately nothing was even in imminent danger. And even if it had gotten to the trees, the makeshift fire truck would have been something while waiting for the “real” trucks to arrive from town!

Teresa Smith
Ahh, the joys of country life!! We had a friend over on Sunday to dig a pit for us to cook our Passover goat in. Well he happened upon a wire buried in the ground and presto!! no water on the property. This did not make our co-renter, who has 20+head of cattle and almost that in horses happy still having to water most of them. Fortunately is was a quick fix and we were able to start our fire to cook our goat. I am always amazed at how farmers can do a “controlled burn” on weeds and tall… Read more »
You’ll now have a nice area for future burnings. 🙂 My dad was a fireman. He used to just pile trash up in a heap at the back of our property, then burn it when it was a nice day. I remember being on ‘spark lookout.’ He would station us around our property, and on the nigh neighbor’s property to keep a lookout for sparks and stamp any out. However, one day, the fire got away from him, and they had to call the fire department. (I was not living with them and missed all the excitement. 😉 He got… Read more »
T F Stern

Sounds like you had an exciting time there; glad it all worked out, mostly. Nobody got hurt and the stand of trees was preserved. On top of that you had the good sense to be grateful; all in all a worth while experience. Thanks for posting.

monica @ educating magpies
monica @ educating magpies

wow! glad all is well. take the matches away from hubby tho’

Jacque @Walking Therein
Jacque @Walking Therein
My greatest worries about burning the trash happened to you. I have watched as the fire spread right outside the barrel with the reply, “Don’t worry about it! I got it all under control…” Well, we don’t own the dry corn field behind us, so I get a little worried about things like that… and there’s the garden 20-30ft away – or the old garage we refinished just 25ft away… Not to mention that 70′ long barn we have that is none too far from the garden… [I always have my son get out the hose and put it where… Read more »
Ironically, that “dead area” is the greenest part of the lawn now, a week later. The fire only took the dead stuff on top. The ground was actually saturated (the fire truck sank in the soft earth!) and even immediately afterward, you could see that anything green hadn’t even been scorched. Sort of strange, but I guess that is why they burn off prairie. But it has been an amazing lesson for all involved! Especially in thinking you are fine just because it rained the night before. Dead grass doesn’t soak up all that much moisture! .-= Dana´s last blog… Read more »
Les Berry

Been there done that. Not quite so dramatically though. Glad it worked out. Just think the grass will be green there first. He did a GOOD thing Right?

Miss Roxie

Thank God for the Fire Department.

Glad to hear that you all are okay. That sounded pretty serious.

Alison Kerr
A lesson which fortunately turned out OK for you. As soon as I mentioned burning trash to my husband his first comment was, “I hope they checked whether they need a burn permit.” I’ve learned about burning precautions from my husband, who gets involved with field burns. You might look out for a training course on field burning, usually free, which explains all the ins-and-outs of burning safely. Factors like wind speed and direction, air temperature, and humidity all make a big difference when it comes to burn safety. There are burn bans currently in agricultural counties close to me… Read more »

It’s a small, bloggy world. I’ve been following your blog for a few months. Hovering, I guess b/c I’m not sure if I’ve left comments. I’m enjoying it none the less. Anyhow, I was peeking again tonight and I saw that you read Moobee, and I just happen to know her. Thought it was a fun little loop. 🙂 Hope your trash dilemmas are solved now. 🙂 Amanda


There’s certainly nothing I get pleasure from more compared to visiting this website each and every week after work. Thanks for all of the wonderful articles!!