Saturday, May 27, 2017

This Burns Me Up!

Guest post by Suzann Darnall

Not only does what I am about to write about make me mad, it literally could burn me up. Me, my family, my neighbors, our homes, our animals, our neighborhood, as well as much of the surrounding area! I know this for a fact ‘cause it happens in many areas across our nation pretty regularly! Not only do I know this from reading and watching news, but I have lived in various areas where it was a regular concern.

What am I talking about? People being careless with fire. From unattended burn piles to unauthorized campfires to throwing a cigarette butt out a car window. It is the last one that has got me riled up, again, this year!

I walked down to the front of my property to get my trash can and discovered, one more time, a cigarette butt laying in a pile of dry grass clippings on the edge of the road right up next to my (fortunately) green and growing grass. This happens on a pretty regular basis and it pert near gives me nightmares. Mainly ‘cause I know what happens when it gets dry and windy and some grass or brush catches on fire.

More than once I have actually sat in my open garage, in California, watching the San Bernardino hillside burn and waiting to see if it jumped one or two or three more arroyos making it mandatory for us to evacuate our home. I have also sat in my home at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, trying to figure out if we could move our horses from the saddle club into our back yard if the wind shifted and the saddle club had to be evacuated. I have also been at that same base, more than once, worried that we would have to evacuate our homes if the wind shifted OR if it did not shift.

My parents live in Parker, Colorado, a bit north of Black Forest. In 2013 there was the most devastating forest fire in the state’s history in the Black Forest area. It left horrid destruction. Some 15,000 acres were burned. Homes were lost. People died. Evidence can still be seen today, nearly 4 years later.

I have spent a good portion of my life living in arid climates. I know how quickly it can go from a spark to a raging fire. Many wildfires, brushfires, forest fires, and grass fires are started by accident. By carelessness. Often ‘cause someone is lazy or acts stupidly. Like throwing a cigarette butt out a car window, rather than putting it in an ashtray or trash receptacle, then throwing it away later.

You would think people living here in the Central Texas Hill Country would most certainly know better than to take the risk of mixing a spark with dry grass. After all, this is a usually drought-ridden, over-heated, arid, zone that can easily be dry as a bone through more than half the year. And, yet, my husband and I regularly find cigarette butts strewn along the road edge of our property. Even in the midst of July or August, when it is likely we have had NO rain for weeks, if not months.

Having watched the billowing smoke and seen the aftermath of the Bastrop County Fire in 2011, it astonishes me that anyone would still be cavalier about throwing a cigarette butt out a car window in Texas. Even if they were not living in this area in 2011, it was national news, and still gets talked about here in the area. Not to mention anyone can still see evidence of the massive destruction when driving through the Bastrop surrounding environs. This was the most destructive wildfire in Texas history.

Now, I am not saying all of these fires or even any of these fires were caused by cigarettes thrown from a car window. But, I am saying it does not take much of a spark in a hot, dry climate to set off a firestorm of epic proportions, particularly on a windy day. A cigarette butt in a pile of dead grass can start a flame in the time it takes a car to pass by as the driver tosses his potentially deadly litter out the window!

One would think common sense and common courtesy would stop people from doing things that might burn down a neighborhood, a forest, or both. But, sense and courtesy do not seem to be all that common anymore. As evidenced by every cigarette butt I’ve seen down by the road in the dry grass each summer and fall I have lived here in Texas!


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