This is the not at all exaggerated story about how my apartment complex would have been engulfed in flames tonight had it not been for the heroics of one Michael Huffman…and the entire St. Johns County Fire Department.
This story is also a PSA announcement to inform average citizens like myself that you cannot fight a forest fire with a fire extinguisher. If nothing else, I want you to come away from this tale with that knowledge in your brain, it could save a life.
Our story begins at approximately 7:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at the Ponce Harbor Apartment Complex. Toni and Michael had just stopped by to drop something off, so the three of us were standing in the parking lot carrying on a conversation that was suddenly interupted by the appearance of a woman racing across the parking lot and into the woods behind my building carrying a fire extinguisher.
Just to give you some background in case you don’t live in Northeast Florida, it would seem that most of our state is in flames these days from a series of wildfires that have blanketed the area in heavy smoke and ash for several days. Under normal circumstances, I would have been only mildly concerned to see a woman bounding into the forest with a fire extinguisher, but given the prevelance of forest fires recently, I was extremely alarmed.
I followed the woman into the clearing next to my building and looked back in the direction where she was running. I saw a vehicle deep in the woods and heard some shouting, but saw no smoke or flames (though as previously mentioned, the whole area has been covered in heavy smoke and ash lately so that is to say I did not see a menacing cloud of smoke that stood out from the rest of the general haze). About this time, a teenager came racing around the corner and shouted the following:
“Tell everyone you know to get their fire extinguishers!”
“Is something on fire?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am, we’ve already called the fire marshals.”
Now, I took two things away from this exchange:
1. I got ma’amed, which is not cool even in the event of a small natural disaster.
2. A fire extinguisher? Really? To fight a brush fire?
Skeptical of this teenager (who’s perceptions were clearly off anyway since he deemed it necessary to call me–a very young looking twenty-six year old–a ma’am) I continued to stand in place. Michael decided to investigate further and bravely walked deeper into the woods.
Moments later he ran back out, shouting “There’s a fire back there!”
“How big is it?”
“How big is big?”
“The flames were really high.”
“But how much square footage are we talking about?”
“I don’t know. I saw flames and I ran.”
At this point, someone else ran by and said to gather all the fire extinguishers. Though I was still very doubtful that this was a viable solution, I felt peer pressured into complying, so I ran upstairs and grabbed my fire extinguisher. Once again, Michael bravely stepped forward and volunteered. Fire extinguisher in hand, he disappeared into the woods.
Toni and I walked around the building across from mine until we finally saw the billowing cloud of smoke rising from the woods and the concerned crowd of onlookers (the ones who had not already bounded into the woods with their fire extinguishers in tow). Two fire trucks rolled up and two more forestry vehicles crashed through the brush and pushed deeper into the woods.
Maybe five minutes passed, at which point Toni said of her husband, “You know, I half expect him to come out of the woods covered in foam.”
We then discussed how neither of us had any idea how to operate a fire extinguisher. Just as we were starting to get a little worried about Michael’s whereabouts, he emerged from the woods unscathed and foamless, but no longer carrying my fire extinguisher.
“Where is my fire extinguisher?”
“They took it.”
“Who took it?”
“To do what with it?”
“They put out the fire.”
“With my fire extinguisher?”
“I saw it.”
A few moments later one of the fire trucks left, followed moments later by the second. At this point, I was seriously considering writing a letter to my apartment complex asking for free rent for at least six months in honor of the fact that it was my fire extinguisher that saved our entire neighborhood from peril. I was mentally writing the closing paragraph when a cop emerged from the woods carrying three empty fire extinguishers. He handed one back to us.
“Just so you know,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of this, but apparently fire extinguishers don’t work on woods fires.”
“Yep. Turns out you have to have water.”
“Who’d have thought…”
“It knocked it down,” he said brightly. Then added, in a more glum tone, “Buuuut then it came right back.”
“You should keep one in your house though, you know for kitchen fires and stuff.”
This exchange left a hilarious image in my head of the firefighters arriving to find this lone cop attempting to beat down the flames with a fire extinguisher. I can only imagine how they shook their heads and laughed. Though at least it was the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and not the JSO, who surely would have tried to battle the blaze by shooting at it.
At any rate, the whole incident didn’t last more than 30 minutes, but it was an extremely exciting 30 minutes. And we learned a very valuable lesson–fire extinguishers do not put out wildfires.
HOWEVER, I would like everyone to view Exhibit A here which is the back of my fire extinguisher which features a graphic of a campfire as one of the fire types it can extinguish and the text “trash, wood, paper.”