It was a beautiful evening for a fire. The kind when smoke builds and billows, rising straight up before expanding outward like a sound wave. The wind, which usually kicks up and carries the sound and salt of the sea this time of day, was calm. Almost as if it had settled in order to witness the spectacle of Man versus Fire.
Though it was a “controlled burn” designed to reducing a garage and small home to ashes, it was akin to laser surgery; we were attempting to isolate and remove a cancerous growth while protecting the healthy flesh around it. Without complete precision and control, the fire could easily jump to the buildings flanking either side — one of which was a two-story dive shop filled with SCBA tanks and welding equipment.
My job as the engineer was to operate the pumper and make sure all six water lines remained full and constantly flowing at the proper PSI; a momentary lag in water supply would be all the fire needed to spread, turning a controlled burn into a fully involved nightmare.
Three hours later, there was nothing but smoldering ash and hot conduit where the house had stood. Next to it was the dive shop. The paint didn’t even peel. Afterward, the owner came by and brought us donuts.
Guess he thought we were the police…