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Wildfire

13 March, 2015 2 Comments

First published in the November 2012 issue of Spotlight

That summer was one of the hottest on record. The country was in the middle of a heatwave, and we hadn’t had any rain for nearly a month. The river was low, and it stank. The ground was bone dry. The newspapers were full of reports of long queues for water, and round the dinner table, grown-ups talked gloomily about the terrible effect it was having on the farmers. It was fantastic!

My friends and I were in our second week of the long, school summer holidays and having the time of our young lives. Sometimes, we played in the streets and gardens, annoying parents and neighbours with our noise and nonsense. More often, we went down into the parched valley and played amongst the trees, running across sun-cracked fields or lazing in the shade or sunshine, depending on our mood.

Most of our wild adventures were imagined. They were harmless games in which we played out the stories we invented as we passed away the long, hot days. Some of our adventures, however, were a little more real, a little more wild, a little more dangerous.

One morning, my Mum had taken me into town for a haircut, so I was late getting to the bridge where we had agreed to meet. When I got there, my friends had already moved on, so I wandered up the path past the rocks, guessing that the others were on their way to the playground. About halfway up, I saw them, two heads moving in the brown grass on the hillside. I charged over and found Ben and Chrissie huddled together round a wisp of white smoke.

Ben was my best friend. He went to the same school as I did and lived just two doors away. He had brought the magnifying glass from the detective’s set he had got for his birthday. He was holding the glass very still, keeping a circle of sunshine tightly focused on a dried blade of grass, while Chrissie, Ben’s cousin, gently blew on the spreading glow.

The glow continued up the blade and sprang into life for just a second. Ben then passed the glass to Chrissie and started tearing up bits of grass to make a small pile. In no time at all, the dry grass was burning. They carried on feeding the flame with more grass until they had a real little fire popping and fizzing between them. Despite the hot sun on my neck, I knelt down beside them and held out my hands to feel the heat better. I took the wrapper off a packet of peppermints I had in my pocket and held it into the flame until it burned briefly — a bright green colour.

Our little fire quickly turned into a black patch, but the friendly flames were now moving to the surrounding ground, and soon an untidy circle of flame began to creep outward, forcing us to skip back a little as it snapped at our feet.

Suddenly, we heard a voice from somewhere below. A man walking his dog on the other side of the river was waving and shouting words we couldn’t catch, while his dog barked crazily. We ran.

We ran up the hill, across the field and past the playground. We climbed over the gate and ran up Pope’s Way and into Shelley Street. We cut through to Brontë Road and heard the wail of a siren approaching fast. Then we quickly sat down on the pavement as though in the middle of a game as the fire engine raced past.

We jumped up and ran after the engine until it came to a stop where the road ended and the steps led down into the valley. Four big-booted firemen in yellow helmets jumped from the engine holding large brushes. They ran down the steps and along the path, we three in hot pursuit. As we chased them, we could see thick, white smoke rising ahead. When we reached the spot, much of the hillside was black and smouldering, while flames continued to cover the rest.

The firemen beat the burning grass with their brushes, and we used green branches wrested from the trees to help. We leaped and danced, hitting at the flames, yelling instructions at one another to help here or run there.

More children had appeared from who knows where, ready to join in, and soon, a second fire crew arrived at the top of the hill and started to spray water on to the scorched earth.

In less than half an hour, the fire was beaten into submission. In the blackened surroundings, we glowed with soot and sweat, our eyes burning, our shoelaces singed and our hearts filled with joy.

One of the firemen approached. “Know anything about this, boys?” he asked.

Eyes wide, we shook our heads.

“Well, thanks for your help, then.”

“No problem. Any time.”

Putting out fires was nearly as much fun as starting them.

Filed in: Fiction

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Comments (2)

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  1. Lynne Hand says:

    Really glad you have put your stories online. My students will be reading this story this evening. 🙂

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