We eventually got everything cleaned up and all the tools and implements of destruction all put away, so I thought it would be appropriate to collect my thoughts and put them into the form of a thoughtful observation.

Note to My Friends and Neighbors: It is ILLEGAL to have a brush or trash fire in this county after April 15—especially without a permit. However, it is LEGAL to have a “recreational fire”—that is a campfire—provided it is less than 3' wide by 3' tall.

The county fire marshal wouldn’t tell me if the “3' tall” meant the fire or the wood. I suppose it’s up to interpretation. So be it. It’s just one more loophole to throw on the blaze.

That being said, nothing could keep me from pushing my luck, not even the possibility that the woman up the ridge (the one I called the cops on back in December because her cur dogs were barking all night) most likely carries a heavy grudge. Actually, come to think of it, after living here as long we have, most of our neighbors probably have some sort of hatchet (if not an ax) to grind, and would love to see me in some sort of hot water, legally or otherwise. I suppose they figured that our little brush burning would be the perfect chance to seize the opportunity to make their little vindictive dreams come true.

As my own personal “recreational” fires go, it wasn’t that large—maybe 10’ or so high at the peak of the flames. Okay, well, maybe 15'; it was too large and too close to measure with a tape measure. However, it was well-managed and discreet, and always restrained by the rake and the high-pressure water hose I keep handy.

It wasn’t my intention to smoke up the whole area, but my buddy Dan, who lives across the street and had come in from the lake a few minutes after the peak, told me that the “word on the street” is that there had been a house fire in the neighborhood. As I mentioned, Dan had just come in from the lake, so I wrote that off to “beer hysteria.”

What saved me was the brevity of the fire, along with my little camping table with the hot dogs and the buns all laid out. And number two son, Andrew, who was innocently loitering off to the side in the near-dark, conveniently obscuring the 5' pile of brush which represented the rest of our fire materials.

By the time the fire officials got there, the fire WAS (barely) three feet wide. They asked me if I was aware that it was illegal to have a brush fire after April 15, and I responded that I was, but this was a hot-dog-cooking fire. The fire marshal gave me an “Oh, sure it is” look, and then asked to see the alibi. I politely directed him to exhibit “A” and “B”—a pack of Oscar Mayer hot dogs and some buns. We even offered him (as well as the seven fireman in the fire truck) a sizzling dog fresh off the grill (as it were), but they declined. They also declined our offer of beer—though I think at least some of them might have accepted under different circumstances.

Anyway, they all drove away and so we had our cookout, just to make it official. And Andrew learned a valuable lesson: “While ignorance of the law may be no excuse, knowledge of the law can be a GREAT excuse.” And, a well-thought-out investment (hot dogs) can reap great rewards. As my beloved Boy Scout leader, Dr. Evans always said, “Be Prepared.” Thank you, Dr. Evans. And especially—thank you, Oscar Mayer.

Dusty Bettis is a talented and well-respected citizen of a major Southern municipality which shall go nameless to protect the innocent.

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