|A drought of common sense|
|Wednesday, 27 June 2012 15:21|
by Mark Hunter
It was our turn, wasn’t it? It seems like for years everyone around us has been getting hit with awful weather: Tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, recall elections … it was just a matter of time before northeast Indiana got targeted by natural disaster.
So now we have a drought, which is better than a lot of other possibilities. We should have known that the mild winter was setting us up for something: Turns out more snow would have been good, after all.
Later I’ll deny ever having said that.
This is our worst drought since 1988, which is the most dry we’ve been since Prohibition. I used the memory of that drought as a backdrop when I wrote “Storm Chaser.” However, the rumors that I arranged for a heat wave and dry spell just to promote my short story collection are untrue and just a bit silly, and I really should stop spreading them.
Those of you who read the book might remember that in it some of Noble County burned down. I won’t mention which part because, hey – spoilers. Let’s just say that if you ever did anything to upset me, your fictional counterpart needed good insurance.
In 1988 the Albion Fire Department (and most of its neighbors), responded to a record number of calls, many related to “controlled” burns. I did air quotes when I typed that. It strained me a little, but now I know I can keep writing if upset readers ever break my arm.
Thank goodness we’ve learned our fire safety lessons, huh?
As I write this the heat wave has broken, but while there’s been rain north and south of here, we didn’t get any. My experience with human nature leads me to believe that somewhere out there, some moron is burning a brush pile, lighting a bonfire, hauling out fireworks, or flipping a cigarette into the ditch, all under the theory that hey – it’s cooled down, so the fire danger’s over, right?
Never mind the open burning ban! The word “ban” is just a suggestion!
A couple of weeks ago we got half an inch of rain, which was enough to make yellow grass blades awaken and cry out in agony before wilting onto the cracked ground again. The next day people were out with matches and lighters, thinking, hey – it rained. Never mind that we’re seven inches short of the rain we should have. Never mind that we’re still drier than an intro to an economics lecture.
For some reason, every time I see a column of smoke in the sky lately I get this picture of Homer Simpson with his eyebrows singed, looking around at the spreading flames and saying, “D’oh!”
Generally, our elected officials are doing the right thing: banning open burning while the threat of rapid fire spread is so real and immediate. (What’s going on with Whitley County? At this writing only local communities have put out a ban there.) We can only depend on dumb luck to protect us from disaster for so long, and it’s so dry right now that even when people watch a fire and keep something to extinguish it close by, it can still spread beyond their control. Angels with fire extinguishers are watching over us, but their wings are getting singed.
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of telling people what they can do on their own property, unless what they do could adversely affect their neighbor. But there’s nothing like burning up your neighbor’s property to demonstrate how that works, huh? People are still burning despite the ban – many claim they didn’t know about it. The drought’s only been in all the papers, all the TV stations, and all the radio stations, not to mention the forefront of common sense.
Imagine how many more fires would be breaking out without it. Most people actually do obey the law. Most people actually do have common sense, although possibly in lower levels than previous generations. No, really. Ignore what you see on reality TV.
So, what do we do with people who have none? Mandatory sterilization? What a cutting edge idea. Let their property burn? I wouldn’t recommend that. Throw them into their own fires? Now we’re getting somewhere.
I recommend requiring each of them to buy a copy of my published works. Why? Well, because I need the sales.
Actually, I think I’m onto something, there. Anytime someone is caught burning during the ban, send them a bill for an emergency services response. Money talks, and in that case it would be saying, “Hey, dummy! You’re burning us!”
As a firefighter I used to like responding to ground cover fires, which I thought of as a way of getting to fight fire without someone losing their property. The first several dozen times a grass or field fire spread to a building made that attitude seem just a little off. When it’s this dry and any breeze at all pops up, we’re behind the game before we even leave the fire station … and tramping across the field wearing protective clothing in a 90 degree sun can be as wearying as election campaign season.
So it seems to me a ban is a good idea, and common sense an even better one. After all, droughts don’t last forever, usually. This time next year we may be throwing sandbags against a flood.
Only then will a burning ban seem all wet.