Can a city girl burn fire breaks? Well, when I was little, I wanted to be an artist. The best gift I ever received was a box of 24 Faber Castel colouring pencils. I sat and drew for hours on end. However, at a later age, I decided that I would rather be a concert pianist. My lengthy practice sessions included make-believe concerts and modest bowing for my adoring audiences. I certainly overwhelmed my poor parent with my performances. So, eventually, I became a teacher. After only two years, I realized that I did not want to be a teacher. This time I decided to study psychology. It took me almost 15 years before I concluded that I did not want to be a psychologist. However, luck was on my side, and we moved to the farm. Everybody knows that farming is bliss!
The South African highveld law requires that each farmer burn fire breaks in the dry winter. During August, strong winds sweep across the fields, and runaway fires are a severe danger. Fire breaks protect the fields and life stock from these fires. At the end of May, we prepare for the daunting task. A thin strip is prepared 15 meters from the fence line to control the fire once the burning starts. When the grass is dry in June and July, it is time to burn.
The first time we had to burn firebreaks, I organized the four farmworkers (used to burning firebreaks). We had tanks of water, flaps to control the flames, diesel to lead the fire and matches. I was terrified. So, I chose to hold the water hose. Bravely I told the worker to light the fire. Can you imagine how quickly a fire can run through dry grass? The moment I saw the flames in the dry grass, I instantly extinguished it. Everyone was astonished, including me.
Never underestimate fire. I have seen it jumping kilometres over fire breaks. It can also cunningly creep between two rocks to dry grass at the other side. Before you know, it runs away. Slowly I learned the critical basics of controlling a fire. But I never became comfortable with burning fire breaks, and I still have a healthy respect for fire.
So, I decided that I never wanted to be a firefighter.