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Around The Sun: Pyromania

Steve Harrison proved to himself that sometimes fire lighting can be too successful.

I think we humans share an inability to light a fire.

We would gather sticks and tree branches for weeks ahead of November 5, Bonfire Night in England. Then on the big night, after weeks of anticipation, we would struggle like crazy to get the fire to light and burn.

A planned romantic evening in front of a glowing fire always highlighted the same problem. There was the girl. Romantic music was playing softly in the background. The sheepskin rug was in position… And, despite having kindling wood, rolled up newspapers and firelighters at the ready, the final ingredient in the romantic situation refused to appear. The fire wouldn’t light. And that dampened the mood.

Eventually I had a gas fire installed. Not as romantic, but more reliable.

With previous failures in mind, I tackled the task of lighting a fire in my garden in Vietnam. I had an adequate supply of suitable materials at my disposal. Our house is on a very small island. Our garden measures some 600 square metres. There are palm trees, bananas and other stuff, all providing suitable flammable material. Over a period of months this assembled itself into a pile which begged to be ignited.

Eventually the day came when I could no longer ignore those pleas. The day was hot, there was only a slight breeze and the material was dry.

“Light it up,’’ said my wife. “We’ll clear the yard.’’

Remembering past failures I made careful preparations. Old newspapers, lighter fluid…

Imagine my surprise when I touched a piece of burning newspaper to the pile. There was a whoosh, then a great billow of flames leapt into the air, giving off both intense light and ferocious heat. I was blown backwards, shocked by what I had achieved. Within seconds the fire was bigger than my house.

My wife Lan and I exchanged scared looks. The fire was huge, out of control, threatening to engulf our house and fence. Quickly I got out a hosepipe and started to direct water at the flames. The scary thing was that the water was vaporising as fast as I could supply it. Thick clouds of smoke filled the air, blinding us.

When my next door neighbour came around he suggested that the smoke was a landmark that would be visible from the moon.

After a couple of hours and several thousand litres of water later, with my pump running red hot, we managed to get rid of every glowing and smouldering ember.

Two seconds to light, and two hours to put out. Quite a fire. Hot enough to satisfy a pyromaniac’s wildest dreams.


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