I Almost Burned Down My Neighborhood Today (Seriously!)

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While you were sleeping, today – my Friday, Nov 12th, was an eventful day.

Fridays are usually our family day which means daddy (that’s me) doesn’t do any work.  However, we were getting some books and files ready to send in a container that is going to the States, so I was down in the office sorting through my files.  I literally filled up a whole wheelbarrow full of old files.  We don’t have a paper shredder, and I wasn’t about to waste my time buying a paper shredder and spending hours shredding all that paperwork. 

So, I had a brilliant idea.

I’d just burn an entire wheelbarrow full of papers.

Now, let me just take a break to tell you that we are in our hot season.  Hot season also means dry season.  It’s been several weeks since we’ve had a big rainfall, and everything around is bone dry (as bone dry as things get in a tropical rainforest location). 

Since it was family day, I took my 5 year old and 3 year old out to help me make a fire.  My son wants to be a fireman when he grows up, so I explained clearly and carefully how daddy was taking safety precautions.  I dug a pit in a pile of gravel.  That’s what Smoky the Bear always said I should do.

Three matches later, my fire was burning and those financial documents were quickly disappearing.

A soft wind blew a piece of paper onto a pile of dry grass. 

I responded by doing nothing (20/20 vision – BAD CHOICE).  I thought, “I’m sure it will just burn out in that little area.”  But within a minute, I decided I’d better get a bucket of water.

By the time I got back with a bucket of water, I knew I had a problem.  I started racing and running with buckets, but within 3-5 minutes I knew this was going to be a beast of a fire I could not contain.

My wife called the fire station, and all I could do was watch the fire get bigger and BIGGER and B-I-G-G-E-R.

Intermission:  I’ll take a break from the facts for a moment to tell you that I felt like a complete and utter moron.  What was I going to do?  How could I have made such a bad judgment call?  How were they going to stop this fire that is now blazing through dry grass? Yup.  Not a good feeling.

Just this morning my wife was reading something out of a test called the Structure of Intellect.  I took the test back in 2000.  The test revealed:

Your creative abilities are higher than your evaluation; this is a potentially troublesome profile because it suggests that your willingness to do the unconventional (creativity) is more highly developed than your judgment (evaluation) as to when and how to be unconventional.  The answer is not to stifle your creativity but rather to bring up your evaluation abilities through training.

I’m not lying.  My wife read this to me 15-20 minutes before I decided to burn all my papers instead of using a paper shredder.  Who says my evaluation abilities need to be improved?

Back to the story …

Within 10 minutes of my failed document burning attempt, the fire truck appeared.

A group of bush kanaka (that’s what we call grass root folks here) firemen, some dressed only in T-shirts, went charging with a hose right into the middle of the field which now glowed with red flames.

I appreciated their vigor and enthusiasm as they charged into the burning field, but I was a little concerned about the fact that the fire was right at the fence line of three of my neighbors’ houses.  Instead, they were focusing their attention on an area that was completely free of houses.  I informed the ‘top dog’ that the fire was at the fence line of the houses on the other side of the field.  He waved me off.  A flick of the wrist that said, “Sir, we are the professionals.  Let us do our job.”

I decided that I should go charging into the 8 feet high grass and do everything I could to stop the fire from getting to a neighbor’s house. 

That was my second dumb idea of the day.

Aside:  If you are ever in a situation where you decide to play fire chief, choose your clothing appropriately.  I had a stick and was trying to beat the fire into submission.  Out of nowhere came one of the bush kanaka firemen and he grabbed the stick from me.  I was left to resort to using my flip-flops to try to stomp out the fire – ouch. 

The fire was finally put out about 1-2 feet from the fence line of my neighbor’s home.

A bystander came by and and said to me, “What kind of an idiot would light a fire today?”

I felt like an idiot, so I simply identified myself as the wretched fool.

Once the fire was out, it was apology time.  By the time I got back to our house, my wife was serving ice cold drinks to all the firemen so they were in good spirits (yes, it was just water she was serving).  I told the top dog that I started the fire and was willing to stand by for whatever fury, fines, or lectures he wanted to throw my way.  He simply said that if I had burned down a house that it would be a matter to be concerned with, but since all houses were still intact, they would let it slide.

Talk about a bad day.

Still don’t believe me?  Check out the photos!


Here’s the field ablaze. (picture taken from our front porch).


This is me sweating bullets thinking, “That fire is getting really close to the house” and “I’m an idiot.” 

Caleb (who wants to be the fireman) loved seeing the professionals in action.  By the end of the day, he said he wanted to be the driver because it was too dangerous to be a fireman.  I asked him how he figured that out and he said, “Mommy.”

Hannah (5 years old) kept saying, “Daddy, I don’t think you made a very good choice (about 100 times).”  Don’t worry; she’s probably heard me say it 1000 times so she had to get her jabs in while she could.


This is the point when I decided I would charge into the grass to save my neighbor’s house.  The flames looked as though they were going to lick up their home in just a moment.


Here’s the firemen’s (yes, no ladies on the force) style.  The guy in yellow on the roof of the truck yells instructions to the bush kanakas running through the fire.  The only problem is that with all the burning and crackling, no one heard anything anyone said.

All joking aside, I must say the Alotau Fire Station came through and saved my hide.  The fire was put out.  They responded quickly.  I owe a huge debt to them.  I felt proud of their accomplishment, and I’m glad they didn’t let any houses burn down. 

Ok, enough of the boring stuff. 

Here’s my article link roundup from this week …

(I’m just going to give you the titles and go clean up the soot and ashes from my legs.)

How To Start Planning For Christmas And Save

Are You Ready To Purchase a Home?

Know your investing risks

Protect yourself from Online Fraud

Should Christians Save Money?

Do You Feel Bad When The Price Drops After You Purchase?

Stop Being a Slave to Debt (and Banks)

Build an emergency fund

How to Redeem US Savings Bonds

Great gift ideas

Ivy League portfolio

Disability insurance for the self employed


Festival of Frugality, Carnival of Personal Finance, Carnival of Financial Planning, Carnival of Money Stories, Carnival of Wealth, Canadian Finance Carnival.


  1. Oregonsun says

    Wow! That indeed was a close call. If I had money for every wrong decision I have made in my life our national debt would probably be nonexistent. Learning curves can be tough. Glad it all worked out for you and your neighbors. PS Your kids sound so cute. Every once in a while the grandkids say something that is so hilarious but stings a bit.

  2. Scott F says

    I know I shouldn’t but…..I laughed. Really hard. I can just see it — and hear Hannah and I can see your face and Jeri’s. And Caleb’s big eyes getting bigger. And I can hear Jeri laughing. And then I start laughing again!

  3. says

    @ Scott – You should’ve seen me laughing while I proofread this post. Nothing I’ve read has made me laugh so hard in a long time. I was all alone in his office while I read it, and I was laughing like someone wouldn’t stop tickling me – both times through! The fire wasn’t funny at the time, but Craig’s retelling of it sure is! Just glad we’re all safe.

  4. Melyssa says

    Ok, I was totally was NOT expecting this. Even with the title of this post. Yeowzers! The pictures really helped complete the story.

    But yes, I’m with you. I probably would have thought to do the same thing. It made sense…..well it did, until I read the rest of the post.

    Glad things turned out alright.

  5. Mark says

    You definitely don’t live a boring life! Amazing what God uses to keep us humble. Has your daughter let up on you yet?

  6. says

    Wow! I’m glad everybody is okay and your neighbors don’t have a reason to be after you!
    We had a similar outing one fourth of July when my brother started the wheat field across the street on fire with a bottle rocket. It was less stressful since no structures were at risk, but my nephew was very concerned and yelling at us all for not fighting it. We just waited for the fire department to arrive who had it out in no time.

  7. Sherrian says

    I am still in a state of utter disbelief, even though the story was quite entertaining. I especially love the part about the Structure of Intellect test! In all, I am glad everyone and everyone’s homes are okay – and I thought I had a rough week!

  8. says

    I know I’m late here (just got back from vacation), but I’m glad to hear everything worked out well, Craig! I’m thankful no one got hurt. It’s good you can laugh about it, but don’t beat yourself up either. We all make mistakes! And I also wanted to thank you for mentioning my article.

  9. Margaret says

    Sorry it has taken me so long to get to read this story… I guess I needed a big laugh today!!!! Really, I HOPE you are writing a book about your experiences in Alotau! I want to read it! This was great!

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