Our recent “bound to happen” conflagration in Eastpoint left some Franklin County residents with invaluable lessons learned—the hard way. Many of us locals have heard and muttered comments that someday “they’re-gonna-kill-somebody.” It’s not the first time in our public forests that burning on a burn-ban or doubtful day got away from whoever was burning there.
Two weeks ago on a doctor trip to Tally, my hero husband, Firefighter Crash of the Eastpoint volunteers, swore at seeing smoke come from the forest to our left on a visibly, variably windy day, on which only fools and dumba***s would burn in the woods. It’s the same thing he yelled on Sunday when he took off with his red lights and siren to answer the Ridge Road burn.
Crash and I met again in the early morning hours 14 hours later, after all kinds of help had poured in from multiple counties, state law enforcement, and rescue entities, as well as material support from some of our finest local restaurants and churches. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those and other volunteer angels. I’d like to list everyone, but editors have word limits and I have more to say.
Few people understand that our Eastpoint firemen work entirely on a volunteer basis, although their families are well aware of that fact. Most of the guys depend on full-time day jobs to cover home and family expenses. They get up some nights at 2, 3, and 4 a.m. to answer first responder calls, and still have to be at work on the bay or in town at daybreak. They receive no monetary compensation, not even gas reimbursement. None was born into wealth or affluence. Several of those firemen witnessed their own homes burn Sunday night while they fought along with the department. Real battle champs, every one of them. Bill has no car, so his one-manpower bike gets him to the scenes, sometimes even ahead of those with fancy wheels, including the ambulance.
Our home in Whispering Pines remained safe, although at high risk at one point. When law enforcers ran me out of my house, I unwittingly breathed some of the thick smoke, which Crash later said contained all manner of poisons and pollutants, including substances from exploding batteries, boats, cars, tires, water heaters, oxygen tanks, propane tanks, insecticides, herbicides, hunting ammunition, strong acids and alkalines, arsenic, metals, paint and who knows what else. My one inhalation burned of something caustic, followed in minutes by a #10 blinding and sick headache for the next three days. Other complaints come from residents on or near North Bayshore who cited burning and irritated eyes for two days. I’ve heard differing opinions about the death of the resident who collapsed, notably his family’s belief that the gentleman would still be with them except for the fire.
Family and friends kept our phone ringing after hearing of our crisis on radio, major national newscasts and papers, as well as thorough coverage on Facebook. Ah, our lovely paradise! How humbling to see ourselves famous for “controlled” fire so soon following the Today Show’s awe-inspiring coverage of our bear attacks. Somebody notify Carl Hiaasen before this one gets away.
We owe much to our hero firefighters that Eastpoint did not go from paradise to you-know-where. Possible? Just ask a few survivors of conflagrations in Hawaii and California. It can happen here. Say something whenever you see “controlled” burning on burn-ban and windy days. Hug your local firefighter. And pass it on.
Dawn Evans Radford is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who lives in Eastpoint.