113/365 Bonfire in Irvington
We all love a good fire, especially at night. It keeps us warm and encourages campfire stories; tales of suspense, or intimate confessionals. It’s a time to respect the wonders of nature, for we all know how devastating uncontrolled fire can be. And so we gather around the campfire…or the bonfire, in this case…and tell our tales while tending the wild flickers of flame.
At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s not how it was for this fire. I was living in Irvington (a subdivision of Indianapolis), in a small bungalow belonging to a bonafide slumlord. I came home late from work one evening. The sun had dipped below the horizon so it was apparent that there was a fire in my backyard. Frantic, I ran out back to find the slumlord feeding the old dilapidated barn into the fire. Irvington is a historic district so any kind of demolition done to a property must first pass through the historic society. He didn’t do this. Granted, the barn was dangerous and of no historical value so he could very easily have obtained a permit to take it down. He just didn’t do it. He wanted it gone and a fire was the easiest way—not the sneakiest, which would have been something he may have considered—but the easiest.
Since a fire is a good opportunity for a photo, I went into the house to get my camera. When I came back out, the slumlord was gone. I figured he would be back but he never returned. He left the fire blazing and I was the only one there to tend it; me and the snow and cold. I was incensed! I stood out there in the dark in the cold with my camera and watched that fire burn. I watched smoldering embers float up in the air, drift across tall grasses, and land sometimes on snow, sometimes in bare grass. When the floating embers drifted into my neighbor’s yard, I was anxious. The distance between my house and my neighbor’s house is about 15ft. A fire could easily destroy the neighborhood. My stomach knotted in fear and anger, knowing I was now responsible, unwittingly, for the fire. I could only hope the lingering winter and cold were enough to tame any possibility of an outbreak of fire because I had no way of extinguishing it except to call 911.
The night wore on. My toes started to freeze. The flames no longer flickered high into the air but had burned low. Embers, too weak to feed into a flame, crawled across seasoned wood. Nails that once held boards in place, tumbled from charred ashes to the ground. I went inside and up to my bedroom where, from the window, I continued to watch the glow of embers as they slowly died down. At midnight, I finally gave in to sleep and went to bed, letting the snow and cold tend what remained.
Why didn’t I call the police? Why didn’t I report this? My Irvington neighborhood was notorious for having the police visit (specifically because of my next-door neighbor). I didn’t consider this a police affair since it wasn’t arson. Now as I think about it, I should have called the fire department, but I didn’t. I felt a relative sense of control over the situation because of the wintry conditions. What really stopped me from calling the police or fire department though, was my financial predicament. I needed to live in that place because the rent was cheap and if I brought in the police or fire department, the slumlord would have evicted me. So I monitored the fire and hoped for the best.
Living in that house was such an interesting time. I lived there for three years and I have three years of stories to tell. Now that I’ve left it, I don’t miss the place. I feel safe ensconced in my new neighborhood where my landlords take care of any problems the minute I ask and where I have not even heard the sirens of a fire truck. How nice.