By: Kevin M. Hibshman
I was trying to stay awake in order to watch a late night movie. One of the perks that came with Summer vacation was that my parents let me stay up as late as I wanted. I caught myself nearly nodding off several times and was just about ready to give in and go upstairs to bed when the town fire siren blasted. My initial reaction was to ignore it. It was probably not worth responding to. Besides, I was groggy and didn’t possess the energy to run after the fire trucks as was our custom.
I changed my mind immediately when the siren went off a second time and I heard the entire fleet of fire apparatus racing towards the west end of town. I knew from experience that something was really cooking. This was major! I knew I needed to wake my sister so we could investigate further.
I ran upstairs to find her blissfully asleep and I knew it might take a few minutes until I could sufficiently rouse her She awoke slowly but when I explained about the repeated siren blasts and how the fire company had zoomed to the other end of town, she became quite lucid. We lived for these spontaneous adventures and there was no way she was going to miss this one. There was a small window beside her bed covered by a thin lace curtain. She sleepily parted the curtain and peered out at the July sky. “There are so many fireflies out tonight,” she yawned.
She hurriedly pulled on some clothes and we quietly, as not to wake our parents, made our way downstairs and out the side door which led to our small front yard. “I’ve never seen this many fireflies,”I quipped. Just then, the ominous realization hit us. They were not fireflies at all. They were tiny, glowing embers, burning out mid-flight to the ground. We stood in stunned silence for a moment, not sure now if we wanted to know what was going on. We were incredibly excited and also fearful.
It was raining ashes!
After a moment of suspended disbelief, we made our way to the sidewalk in front of our house. We then saw something we’d never forget. The entire western horizon, as far as the eye could see, was glowing a bright orange-red. Our friend and fellow ambulance chaser, Brenda, came out of her house. The sirens had roused her from sleep. She saw, almost immediately the burning sky and gasped aloud before crossing the street to stand with us in mutual shock. “It must be the mill,” she exclaimed, finally able to speak. Before we could start the six-block trek towards the mill, fire engines from surrounding towns began roaring down our street. This commotion startled our slumbering parents awake and they soon joined us, as did Brenda’s mother and father. We all gazed at the apocalyptic vision before us in a daze of curiosity and fright.
We kids decided we would have to find out the source of this massive conflagration. Our parents were dubious but allowed us to depart. My body was tingling with anticipation. Passing the lumber yard which was at the end of our street, tucked in an alley, I happened to look skyward and saw an object I could not identify. I pointed it out to the other two and again, a strange realization took hold.
It was a plywood plank spinning circles about a hundred feet in the air and it was still on fire with visible flames licking at it. I was instantly panicked. What if this fiery plank and the consistent rain of ashes landed in the lumber yard, sparking a second inferno? What if the ashes ignited our roof tops? I kept these unsettling thoughts to myself as we continued to get closer to the mill.
There were more people outside as we approached the site. Screaming sirens filled the night air as emergency vehicles from everywhere kept arriving. We could only get as close as the street corner a few thousand feet from the mill. We felt the intense heat upon our skin and the brightness of the flames was nearly blinding until our eyes adjusted to it. We stood there utterly absorbed until the police began clearing the area. I tried to capture all I’d seen so I could thoroughly report back to our parents. As we approached the lumber yard, I noticed a fire engine from a neighboring town was parked in the center of it and I let out a sigh of relief.