My son wanted to learn how to build a fire in a wood stove.

I decided to teach him when I realized I was teaching him Bad Fire Safety as he was shoveling out the ashes.

You see, we have a bucket for ashes, but it’s plastic.  Means you can only put cold to the touch and well scattered ashes in it.  If  it feels even comfortable to the touch and you’ve had a fire in less than 48 hours, you better be using a metal ash bin.  I gave him a big lecture on that and explained that ashes often have live coals in them even if you think they don’t.

After that, I did teach him how to light a fire in the stove and gave him a big lecture on why he must never ever do that unless the adults are in the house. On the other hand, if he learns how to do it safely, that’s a Good Thing.  I’m teaching him how to use the damper to regulate temperature and all that smack. (Why yes, we have recently-tested fire alarms in our house!)

All of this concern comes from a childhood of great good luck.  I remember a couple of chimney fires when I was a child, both from the wood stove and various fireplaces — usually started by my pyromaniac maternal grandmother burning all the Christmas wrapping in the fireplace and a lit bit flying up the not too recently cleaned chimney.  Virginia winters are notoriously wet, so sparks didn’t catch fire on the roof during these episodes.  Each time there was really no more damage than a big scare, but it sure does make an impression.

‘Course, as much as we joke about Nanny being a pyro, the best fire story is on the other side of the family.

My paternal grandfather was a volunteer fireman in Chesterfield County, VA for many years.  Being community-minded, my grandmother also participated in the women’s auxiliary.    They had a rather large plot for a small suburban home — large enough to have a garden and a shed where they raised chickens for awhile.  I say for awhile, because it turned out that my father and his siblings were quite reluctant to eat animals they’d gotten to know, much to the digust of my farmgirl grandmother.

Anyway, they did stop raising chickens and after awhile, the shed fell into disrepair and needed to be disposed of.  One evening, Granddaddy decided that was the day they needed to get rid of the chicken shed and back at this time, laws about burning refuse weren’t so strict as they are now, so he decided to burn it.

“Now Garfield, I’m off to the auxiliary meeting,” says Grandma. “You make sure that you knock that shed down before you set it on fire.”

“Ruby, I’m a fireman!”  says Granddaddy in exasperation. “I know it’s illegal to set fire to a standing building.”

“Just be sure it’s knocked down,” says Grandma before she leaves for her meeting.

After she leaves, Granddaddy and the children go out back to knock down the old chicken shed.  They do so.  Well, sort of.

You see, according to Granddaddy, if the roof was touching the ground, then the building was knocked down, making it totally legal to set it on fire1.

Meanwhile Grandma is at the fire station getting herself a cup of coffee and sitting down by her neighbor when the alarm goes off, making everyone jump.

You know whose house the fire trucks came to, don’t you?

It’s really rather surprising Grandma didn’t die of embarrassment right then and there.  Come to think of it, it’s actually a wonder that I ever knew Granddaddy at all.  She had a temper on her, Ruby did.


1Granddaddy, being a preacher’s kid, was more attached to misbehaving then claiming the virtue of the letter of the law than most.

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