Would you believe this has happened to me before?
About 15 years ago, I lived with a friend on the second floor in an apartment in Brentwood, and we had a little balcony that was about four feet wide – about as wide as a barbecue. Which I used frequently. And it was one of those barbecues where you have a little propane tank under it, and every now and then you start to cook something and you run out of propane and you end up with not-quite-cooked food.
So one day, I threw something on the barbecue (can’t remember what) and went back to the kitchen to finish preparing dinner. And the next thing I knew, the valve shot off of the propane tank and the barbecue burst into flames.
I called 9-1-1, the Fire Department came and three firemen dragged a huge hose through my living room to put out the fire, which had turned the underside of the balcony above me a lovely, crispy black hue.
I am quite sure there was a clause in our lease saying we couldn’t have a barbecue on the balcony.
So fast-forward 15 years. I was at home with Madison, trying to catch up on some work I hadn’t completed yet. It was about 6:45 in the evening. I was supposed to attend an event, but I decided to stay home instead and cook a chicken I had in the fridge for dinner, and finish the work. I heated up the barbecue on our back deck, cut the chicken in half and threw it on the grill. After about 5 minutes, I checked it, turned the fire up just a bit and closed the cover.
Then I went downstairs and called a colleague. We spoke for maybe 10 minutes. Then I came back upstairs, and I noticed a nice glow coming through the back door. I looked through it and saw the barbecue completely engulfed in flames.
I couldn’t find the cordless phone, which I was convinced I had left somewhere in the kitchen, so I ran back downstairs and dialed 9-1-1. They transferred me to dispatch. I gave them my address and he seemed to want to keep me on the phone. But because we live in a dark canyon on a little tiny street, I wanted to turn on all of the lights in the house so the firefighters could see where to go. So I hung up and ran around turning lights on, sequestering the dog upstairs so she wouldn’t get out when I opened the gate. I found a flashlight and went down to the street to wave the fire truck down when it came.
I called dispatch back in case they needed any additional information. I was already standing out in the street when I spoke to the person who had taken my report a few minutes prior. “Do you have a garden hose near the barbecue?” he asked me. “Oh.” I said in response. “Of course I do.”
By the time it occurred to me to turn the hose on the fire, the fire truck was pulling up. I was standing there in a sweatshirt, some scrubs bottoms and my slippers. When the fire truck arrived, three calm firefighters encountered me – breathless and hopping from one foot to the other. I asked the Captain how long their hose was. My back deck is up two flights of stairs.
Luckily, this time, they could access the barbecue without traipsing through the living room – there are side stairs. “Is there a garden hose up there?” the Captain asked me. “Let’s take a look,” he said calmly.
So the three firemen and I climbed up our side stairs, and there was the barbecue, still aflame, listing to port as it melted itself. There had been big blue 20-gallon tub right in front of it that I use to collect rainwater – and as the barbecue burned, it fell forward and into a full tub of last week’s rain.
The firemen used my garden hose to put the fire out, and one of them bravely reached in with gloved hand to shut off the gas valve. Have I mentioned that I no longer use propane tanks? They are so dangerous. I had a plumber pipe a gas line to the back deck from the main gas hub. Then they kept watering the barbecue down as it steamed to cool. We joked about how the chicken was “extra crispy,” and how it was now chicken soup. I took a box of Thin Mints out of the freezer and sent the firemen back to the fire station. They tried valiantly to refuse them.
I don’t really think there’s a lesson to be learned here – just a situation that was definitely not funny at the time, that is now a funny story. Madison wonders why she can’t go on the back deck right now, and I wonder when the acrid smell will go away and the burned plastic fumes I must have inhaled will be done molesting my lungs.
And I’m off to buy a new barbecue.