As Rick walked through the “Home For Sale” at 1001 Highland Circle he knew the many people touring the home had no knowledge of what happened here over thirty years ago.
It was a time when things were much different than today. Firefighting was one of the things that were different. Thirty years ago a firefighter’s gear consisted of a helmet that resembled that worn by a motorcycle cop, a light-weight jacket, rubber boots that pulled up high-thigh-level just above the bottom of the jacket, and jersey yellow farm gloves.
Something that was the same thirty years ago was the problem with illegal drugs. Which brings us to the day of the fire.
I was assigned Squad duty that day. My partner Roger and I were moved to station #2, because the engine had been taken to headquarters for repairs. The motor on the Squad hadn’t cooled before the round alarm on the wall rattled out the fire tone. What followed was a message from the Dispatcher, “We have a report of a fire in a basement at 1001 Highland Circle. Everyone is out of the home.”
Roger and I ran to the Squad and jumped into our gear. The distance from the fire station to the fire was a short distance. A middle-aged man met us on our arrival. He pointed to the home and said, “The fire is in the back of the basement.”
We grabbed our air packs, then a rubber 3/4″ booster line, and headed down into the basement. We were met with heavy smoke but no flames. The basement was full of barrels, glass bottles, and other unidentifiable items. We worked our way to the back room in the basement and found the fire had self-extinguished itself.
Other firefighters arrived on scene and made their way down into the basement. I heard glass breaking and assumed the firefighters had knocked some of the glass containers over. Firefighters Rick and Gene entered the room where I was at as my partner left to get an air refill.
Rick came over to my side of the room. He nudged me and pointed to something on a table. It was a scale.
My muffled reply was, “Something is odd about this fire.” Those words had barely left my fogged over mask when I heard a loud “Whoosh!” I looked out the room’s doorway and saw a monstrous fire ball rolling across the basement towards us. In the blink of an eye the fire ball was in our room.
Gene was on the other side of the room. In trying to get over to us he slipped and fell to his back. The room was completely in flames. I opened the nozzle and directed it at Gene to protect him. Unfortunately, the straight stream was blasting him so hard that he simply flailed all four extremities like a turtle on its back.
The heat was blistering my hands through the yellow jersey gloves rendering me unable to turn the nozzle to fog. Rick reached around me and made the adjustment. As quickly as the fire ball had entered the room it was now out.
Rick, Gene, and I exited the basement. We all suffered second degree burns to our hands and ears. While we were transported to the hospital other firefighters cleared the basement. One of the firefighters reached into one of the barrels, grabbed a handful of its contents, and brought it outside. It was marijuana.
Multiple barrels of processing marijuana were removed from the basement along with numerous glass bottles of liquid chemical. A chemist from the local college identified the unmarked chemicals. He said, “There was enough chemicals in that basement to blow the house off the foundation.”
As Rick toured the home he snapped a picture of the hot water heater. Did anyone know this heater was the ignition source of a fire ball over thirty years ago? It’s probably best to keep that story from the new owners.
*The owner of the home and his wife had several small children. He hired a good lawyer who used the removal of the marijuana by the firefighter to get him off most of the charges.