Personal Memoirs


 

 

The Arsonist

When I made a movie for my mother's 80th birthday, part of it was a chat that my brother Don and I had in his house, remembering things in our past that dealt with the "Big House" or just family in general.  When I told my brother about the stories in this section, he was almost frothing at the mouth when he accused me of being an arsonist!  Heh heh.  He was the fire chief for the Town of Morinville for 30 years, so I guess he had a right to be concerned.  I really laughed at his accusation.  Heh heh.  Still laugh when I think about it.

First there was the Roy house (Morinville Creamery)  that I almost burned down.  It wasn't really close, but the potential was there.  As I recounted to my brother, I wanted to clean the dead grass away from our back fence and figured the best way would be to burn it, like the town maintenance people would do often in the spring.  Don wouldn't bite because he never cared what I wanted, what I did, or that I even counted.  So he ignored me like he always did.

So, one day I took it upon myself to burn the grass.  I started at the far end, near the garbage can and things were progressing quite well.  In fact, too well, because the wind was pushing the fire faster and faster down the fence line.  It was starting to get out of control and the only tool I had to control it, a rake, was not doing the job.  As I tried to control where the fire was going, the wind simply jumped the fire over the rake to the continuing patch of dry grass.  I ran back to the house, got a pail of water from the outside tap and a gunny sack from somewhere and tried to beat the hell out the fire, but it was out of control.  One of our neighbours (the Hewes mother, mother of 15 children) seeing this,  came out and asked if I needed help.  I said no because I was too embarrassed,  but there was great danger the fire would get in Roy's yard. 

Roy was an old man with a big two-story house that was full of papers and junk.  The house was an old creamery, unpainted and was dry as a bone.  This house would be razed in minutes if it caught fire.  To add to the danger was the fact the grass in his yard was 3 feet tall.  He never cut it and it was a real fire hazard.  Especially now.  I knew that if it caught fire, it would only be minutes before his house would be burning too.  Can you say "panic"?

Just then, Don screeches up with his car and he runs out and helps me beat the fire down.  Of course he gave me hell but I threw it back at him that it was HIS fault because he didn't help me!  In my recounting of this story to him, I told him he owed his career as Fire Chief to me!  I got him his job!  Heh heh.

I wasn't finished though with my stories.  I told him about how I would start paper on fire in the Big House and throw it down this 3" cast iron sewer pipe in the bathroom that extended to the basement.  No one knew exactly what the purpose of this pipe was, but it was at eye level in the bathroom and went down two floors to the basement, behind the furnace.  When I poured water down the tube, this is where it came out.  So I would light papers on fire and throw them down this pipe.  Later I would put lighter fluid on the paper and throw this down. The burning paper never made it to the bottom because it would often get caught between the walls of the pipe, or there may have been a kink, elbow, or other restriction somewhere between the top floor and the basement.  After throwing flaming papers in there, I would squirt lighter fluid into the hole.  I never did see big flames or anything coming out the entrance but there was always smoke.  I would throw cups of water down after, to put the fire out. 

My brother was aghast at my confession.  His mouth was wide open.  So this is when I delivered the coup de gras.

I told him that I would be sitting on the toilet and would spray lighter fluid on my arms and light IT on fire, like stunt men would do in the movies.  Actually since we didn't have a TV then I was pre-dating stunt men who started themselves on fire.  I was a leader!  Anyway, I always had a towel handy in case I actually started to burn, but the lighter fluid had a low flash point and low absorption level on my skin, so it just burned off.  I never felt a thing.  I should have tried gasoline.  Now that would have burned a bit more.

That story is what prompted my brother to call me an arsonist.  Heh heh.  I still laugh at his reaction.

Now, it was at this point I should have brought up the subject of another fire, just to get a BIGGER reaction.  When I was a teenager living with my mother in her yellow and purple house, a couple of doors down from us was a house owned by my cousin Henry.  He had it rented out to some guy who started the house on fire.   A number of us, my brother, cousin, mother, and myself had to testify in court at this guys arson case and according to the evidence I heard, it was definitely a case of arson on the renter’s part.  I had nothing to do with it.  The arsonist got off, but we are convinced he did it because of evidence such as a candle found in a box on the floor, gasoline in the house, etc.  I should have looked at my brother after he called me an arsonist and asked him, " Do you remember that arson trial we went to for the guy accused of burning down Henry's house?"  Heh heh.   The implication would have been that I had started the fire, which is why the true arsonist got off.  Now that would have been REALLY funny.