We were relaxing in the house the other night when we saw a truck come down our dead end street with bright flashing blue lights. It left, went up the street, came back down our street, and then pulled into the empty lot on the other side of our street. By now I was very curious and went out to see what was going on.
It was firemen, and they were starting to strap water tanks on their backs. It wasn’t until they pointed out the fire in the woods that I realized what was going on. Fortunately for us, the wind was blowing the smoke away from us so we hadn’t smelled anything and we had the TV on, so we didn’t hear anything either.
When the firemen are called for a brush fire, they go out with their portable water tanks and spray the perimeter in an attempt to keep the fire from spreading into someone’s property. I think they stayed for less than an hour and though the fire didn’t seem to come closer to the houses, it was definitely still burning in the woods.
I spent the next couple hours on my terrace. The fire would flare up and start popping and crackling, and then it would quiet down again. By 1 AM I figured I should get some sleep. The fire wasn’t coming closer or doing anything different so I figure everything would be ok.
When I got up the next morning the fire was still burning and had come up to my neighbors back yards. These plantain trees are almost to their property line and you can see the fire shouldering just a few feet behind them.
My neighbor said they were out there at 3 AM with the water hose wetting the perimeter, and sweeping and raking up anything that would burn between the woods and their property. They said these woods tend to burn every year and it is surprising that they haven’t for the last couple summers.
At first I was very freaked out by the brush fires that happen everywhere in the dry season. People do try to protect their yards and property but in general no one gets very excited. If it’s a field or woods without homes, the fire is allowed to just burn itself out. But, homes are made of cement with metal roofs so they aren’t going to burn. And, if an area burns every year or two, there won’t be enough thick undergrowth to fuel a big, dangerous fire.
You can tell its summer in Panama by the smoke in the air. I can smell it today coming from the east. If a fire is close and the wind is in the right direction, you also get a sprinkling of ashes on everything.