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Monday, September 21, 2009


T0day I went to Farmer's Hardware and bought a fire extinguisher for Jr's car, which I'm driving now. I've determined I will always have a fire extinguisher in whatever I drive next. Curiously, it fits perfectly in the armrest/glovebox in the middle of the front seat. It fits like it was made for it. Snug, but not tight, enough that it doesn't rattle around. It stays in place. The instructions on the box say to put it in the trunk. No way. That's way too far away. And when you're excited because there's a fire under the dash, trying to fumble with the key and the keyhole in the trunk is a problem. Plus, you have to get out of the car, go around to the back first, then fumble with the key in a frantic state of mind. I want it next to me, so all I have to do is lift the latch, the top comes up and there it is.

Now that I know how fast a vehicle's interior burns, I will not be so vulnerable again. On the box they note that in USA there is a vehicle fire every 79 seconds. That's a lot of insurance replacement money. Seems like if insurance corporations would give some kind of incentive to people to have a fire extinguisher, like have one or you don't get insurance, they could give the CEOs even more billions for salaries. If there are that many vehicle fires, it means a lot of people lose their lives in the worst kind of way.

I don't want to know how it felt to Joan of Arc and all the women burned by the righteous in Pilgrim times. The interior of a car is so volatile, it's very much the same as throwing a gallon of kerosene inside a car and putting a match to it. It wouldn't go up any faster that way than without the kerosene. You have time to get out and run for it, and that's about it. If I'd had a fire extinguisher, I would have had only superficial damage. Wouldn't have cost me anything or the insurance corporation either.

I could almost go at this issue with missionary zeal, start a website, get a thing going like MADD and DARE and give talks in high school gyms to teenagers scaring them with horror stories into paying attention, promoting fire extinguishers. It had never entered my mind a car's interior was so volatile. Never thought about it. None of it is flame retardant. None of it, except the steel frames of the seats and steering wheel.
Witnessing such a fire from start to finish, I was dumbfounded. In a movie when you see a vehicle interior on fire, it really is like that. They don't need to add explosives to make the fire big. Of course, they use explosives to mock the gas tank explosions, for control, which I knew, but I still did not want to see the gas tank explode. It was full, so it wasn't as bad a problem as a tank full of fumes, but it is still 17.5 gallons of 83 octane gasoline. That's a lot of fire. Napalm is made of gasoline.

Two women of our county, that I know of, both of them women everyone who knew them had nothing but the best to say about them, were burned to death in vehicle fires, one a car, the other a tractor. Wonderful people, both of them were. It wasn't right then and it isn't right now that they had to burn up as they did. I don't know about other people's karma, or my own, but I still don't see that either one of those women deserved such a frightening awful way to go.

When I was watching it burn and taking pictures I was thinking of them. I was actually relieved to see that it was at least fast for them. I'd imagined Susan slowly tortured by flames, which she was indeed, but I imagined for a long time. What I saw was it wasn't long at all. It was horrid, and it was a very long minute, but it wouldn't have been much longer than that in seconds. I think of them as people in my world, which is a small world, and expand that to the world of all the people not in my world, all other counties in the country. If every county has 2 people who died in such a way, that's a lot of people adding them all up.

What I saw, with these two women in my mind from the very first moment I realized a fire was going, was our vehicles are far more lethal as fire hazards to the occupants than flying through the windshield headfirst into a power pole. Any kind of little fire that gets started, the vehicle is gone as soon as it starts. Without a fire extinguisher. The one I bought today was only $15. That is very little compared to the expense and misery of a vehicular blaze.

I know we can do nothing about making car interiors fire retardant, but since they are so volatile and will go on being so, a little self-help goes a long ways. I'm telling you this, because you're dear to me and this strikes me as something really important to understand, that your vehicle interiors are high-powered fuel. I don't mean to be your Brooklyn step-mother and browbeat you to catatonic boredom with it, I just feel a need to share that part of my experience, which I believe is the most important part. One of the firemen told me they have a lot of experience with vehicle fires.

Much of this I see as another hazard of the modern world. I think about a jet pilot. Something goes wrong. Zap. Your head in the helmet might be found someplace, but nothing else. It's the hazards for going fast like we like to do, and mass production keeping costs down as much as possible. It's how we live now. I cannot make an entirely flame retardant automobile interior.

What I've seen is this extremely dangerous pod we lock ourselves inside when we go someplace can have all its potential danger removed with a fire extinguisher. Danger eliminated. Of course, you can get out and save yourself easily, but then your car, truck, tapes, cds, tools, all the stuff you carry is gone. And it goes away before your very eyes, up in smoke, thick black boiling smoke. It looked like an oil well fire. An extinguisher would have eliminated all that smoke pollution. It was the sort of air pollution that can be seen from a satellite.
I continue to be overwhelmed by gratitude for the volunteer firemen, who also make the fiddlers convention possible. Like Bob Lane said while he was driving me to Jr's, you don't know how important they are until you need them. Isn't it so. These are the men who chose to stay here and live the best they can instead of going to a city after high school for a better paying job. These are the people who carry on mountain culture through their generation on into the next.
Mountain culture is a changing thing like everything else. These are the mountain people of this generation who carry the tradition. What I stood there and watched, more overwhelming than seeing my truck in flames, was these guys are carrying with them the best of the mountain spirit, the core of it. You see and hear about "the kids these days," and there are some losers going about, always are, always will be, but a lot of these guys were of the "younger generation" and they weren't no fools among them. It made me feel at ease about the future of the mountain people.

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