Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The only thought I had in my mind, as I gazed out over the first guests to arrive to the party was… what are they looking at?

This being the country I assumed there were some rogue horses on the loose again, or a bald eagle swooping in for a kill, or even a tractor accident…my garage smoking profusely was way down the list of what I would see when swinging my gaze to match the others. I think the sound I uttered was something like, ahhh-ohhhh. 

I quickly ran out to try and open the automatic garage door, which was the ONLY redeeming quality of the garage and there was no movement. Since that is the only way into the smokehouse I took a quick stock of the situation and laughed. Megs yelled out the door, “what’s going on?”

“Well babe, I am calling 911”

“911, what is your emergency”

“Oh Hi, yeah, my garage is smoking/ on fire”

Questions, questions, questions…

“It is a detached garage, away from the house, and the only thing it is near is the power pole roughly 8 feet away and a pine tree but the wind is blowing away from the house and both of those other things”

“Ok, the fire department is on their way”

“Thank you”

Calm as a cucumber if I don’t mind saying. Over the last year, and even more recently, the “garage” was the main collector of garbage and near garbage items that we accumulated on the farm. I couldn't figure out why this building all of a sudden decided to commit suicide. It couldn't be my fault could it? Nah, my blissful innocence is always intact. My first big thought was why would the garage door not open? Did the garage door opener burn up and start the fire? 

Then I had an oh shit moment. During all my past construction projects I have always landfilled drywall, plaster, etc and burned all the wood including lath, flooring, and unusable dimensional lumber. It keeps me warm and shrinks the amount of end product trash that gets disposed of to ash. The burn barrel I used had filled up a couple days prior to this incident and needed to be dumped. Because I don’t remove all the errant nails from the wood before I burn it I ended up throwing that ash into the main construction hold cans and bags as available space provided. Could it have been the ash? Noooooo, that cant be right, I thought (justified) to myself.

My main speech as people party goers pulled up was…

“Welcome to our home, no that fire is not intentional, yes the fire department is on their way, please park over there to avoid smoke damage and the impending force of trucks coming to put that out, go on in and have some food!”
Sidebar: Although I have no law training I would like to convoke the court of my “it wasn't my fault” argument. 1: The ash had sat in the can for more than 3 days, enduring lots of rain, and wind before being dumped, and was actually more like sludge than dust. 2: When i tried to open the automatic garage door there was no response at all, and a quick check on the power pole showed that the fuse had not tripped. AND that was before full flames engulfed the building, we were just at the smoking phase at this point. Convinced yet?

Our 3 season porch was like an observation deck for kids and adults alike. 

I stayed outside to cordon off the area, feel important, and make sure that the fire wasn't going to catch anything else on fire, especially the pine tree behind it. After the flames started leaping out of the back of the garage I made an executive decision to cut a few of the closest branches in order to stave off the attempts of the fire to spread. I turned to my wingman (AA) pointed and said, “Green ladder, top of the stairs to the left… I am grabbing my chainsaw” and then ran off. Jogging back to the fire while warming up my chainsaw AA was already ahead of me, setting up the ladder at the base of the tree. He held the ladder in place as I climbed up a few steps and quickly cut off two branches. The wind was in our favor and was blowing directly at our backs keeping the fire, which was only about 8 feet away, away from our non fire retardant skin.

As impressed as I could be, the volunteer fire department showed up in record fashion… ~15 minutes after the call. Now for you city folk 15 minutes would be an eternity, but we are about 10 miles from the station and the guys don't just kick around there all day waiting for morons like me to burn stuff down. They have to drop what they are doing, gear up, and tear out of there and to my house! By the time the first water truck pulled up, almost all of our guest had arrived and it was a show.

The garage was now pretty much a shell when the FD rolled up and the first stream of water literally collapsed the whole structure in on itself. It was like a fire hose hitting a piece of paper, I cant believe the structure was still standing. At this point more and more trucks were rolling up. There were ladder trucks, pumper trucks, and even the mobile rescue truck towing their tracked side by side ATV beast. If I had a long enough garden hose I could have put this thing out and someone called the whole force!

One of the best aspects of this debacle was that when I lived in Decorah for a year, before Megs and the kids joined me, I trained with these guys and planned on joining the department. Unfortunately they require that you live within 3 miles of the station, which we do not, but I appreciate the rule now! I know some of these guys, see them around town and even work with one of them everyday. They rolled up with smiles on their faces, like “Hey I know you!” Embarrassment aside, it was kinda nice to see them all again.

The fire was out in moments and they drenched it with a mixture of fire and foam fire retardant to ensure there would be no flareups after they left. I quickly spoke to the chief/ fire investigator and relayed the sidebar story above. Ok he said, and went digging. A few more questions and he proclaimed the ash was probably the culprit and that he was ruling it accidentally. He said accidental but he meant he was ruling it city boy moron. The chief then finished by asking two questions…

“Did you put a match to it?”

“Did you do this in order to call us out for the party?”

“Oh man, NO”

“Ok, have a good day”

Simple as that we had our first, and hopefully last fire. A handful of the guys threw a few verbal “you are an idiot” jabs the way on their way back to the trucks and I headed in for a walking taco lunch; I was hungry.

Other than construction garbage in the garage, there were a few items we will miss, but guess what? The building was insured on our homeowners insurance so all items that had any redeeming quality will be bought again. We still have a charred rubble pile in our yard, but Allstate is working to get someone to come and clean it up for us, or at least some cash for a roll off dumpster. 

We ended up being in all the local papers and radio stations, as a fire is big news around here. It was written up as the Decorah Fire Department being called to the Andy Peterson Farm, and upon reading this Megs was irked that she wasn't mentioned. 

With a scrunched up face I asked, “You would like your name tied to this stupid event?” 

“Well no, but…I don't know…chuckle”

All I know is my 2014 luck continues: Crazy events unfold all around me but no one gets hurt, and everything is fixable. Oh, and this was defiantly not my fault. Case closed.


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