I've been attracted to fire from an early age, when dad caught me "mowing" the lawn with a blowtorch.
"I don't care if it is a controlled burn; you get your butt inside."
Only recently, when firemen trained in my area, did I learn what dad already knew: Fire is evil.
Training took place at five houses condemned to burn because they were built sometime during the Mesozoic Era. The battalion chief, who oversaw the drill with a stoic air, Constantine at war, said something about PSI, GPM, NFL. From all accounts, they'd be burning things.
The men paired off for assignments: ventilation, support, and -- gulp -- lying down inside a house WHILE IT BURNED! That person was properly called the "dummy." So it goes.
The captain's face turned grim: "It is not macho when someone melts their helmet. Injuries do not impress me. I want you on your bellies."
You can see why Prometheus, having stolen fire from the gods, was sentenced to have his liver eaten out daily while Mariah Carey played in the background. And why did Prometheus take the blame when, in the same book, we see fire-breathing dragons? I hate plot holes.
Some years later the hippies would set fire to just about everything: draft cards, bras, dolls, several metric tons of controlled flora.
And let's not forget the Keebler Elves Incident of '98: "I don't know what we were thinking, baking inside a tree!"
Zeus had seen it all coming.
Back at our drill, Constantine praised the men who had worked overtime to prep the location, and they all marched off to their posts. I made like a tree and stood there.
After 30 minutes of bullhorn, they finally got to the good part: "Fire in the hole!"
I plugged my ears for an explosion while the Ignition Group calmly walked inside and dropped a flame on the "class A combustibles" -- haystacks, plywood, U.S. currency.
I wonder if an incense factory has ever burned down. Could you see the eleven o'clock news? "And while this fire has caused millions of dollars in damage, the city smells terrific!"
Captain Phil waved me over to House Three. I looked around to make sure he wasn't crazy. Yes, he nodded, come on up. Did I mention that the house next-door was on fire? I climbed the ladder with that giddy feeling you get on your first field trip, only this blew away the post office.
Across the street, commoners gathered like moths at Lamps Plus. The fire truck blasted three times: last call to get the hell out. I took in the blaze a moment longer, knowing I would never again, with any luck, be so close. The dragon crackled and hissed, spitting cinders our way.
"Once it gets like that," said Phil, "we just surround and drown. It's all over."
Until then, I always imagined that I could run into a burning house and save someone's life. Now I'm not so sure. I would at least have to know what kind of person it is. See a résumé or something.
The firemen de-sooted over Gatorade and smeared charcoal on their faces every time they wiped. You have to admire people who, for our safety, put themselves in a position to die regardless of their plans for the rest of the day.
Constantine applauded his troops for a job well done. A few stayed behind to babysit the hot spots, which could smolder for a week if left unattended. Don't worry, dad. It's a controlled burn.