DOWN THE LINE

Fire on Sadogashima

From: Stories from Other Places by Graham Bathgate

Excerpt from this short story based on a real event.

All went well and each day Rong burned off a new section of a field. There were various safety procedures for doing this and he made sure that he checked the area to be burned, made sure he told the village people and had a supply of water on hand. One particularly fine calm day Rong decided to burn off an extra big area. He rushed about lighting here and there. The tinder-dry field caught easily burning with a crackling uneven sound as it burned down and caught anew the next piece of undergrowth.

When he had a good patch under fire and was enjoying the progress and thinking of the new ground he could till, Rong felt something change in the air, a barely perceptible movement accompanied by a slight change in temperature. He looked up and around. The sun shone, there were no clouds, the bamboo grove was still. He lit another section of field. There was that movement again. He had known sudden gusts of wind before, but they seldom affected the fires. This time was different, it felt eerie. Rong decided not to light any more.

Suddenly, as if the air was super-charged, a wind came out of the north. The bamboo shook and bent over as if squashed. Rong rushed for his fire beater branches to try to put out some of the bigger flames. No sooner had he reached one fiery bit than another burst into life fanned by the huge draughts of warm air. Some of the fire leapt across to an adjoining field. Rong raced round over the fence and into it. He grabbed some branches he kept over there for this eventuality and began beating ferociously. He looked to his side. The fire was rushing down a dried out channel. In winter this was a raging torrent. Now it was a conduit of flame. At the end of the ditch was a huge pile of bamboo which burst loudly into bright flame sending it up in a conflagration which showered sparks over a wide area. Other areas caught fire. There were too many hotspots, too many fires, all too much for one person. Rong looked in horror as various fires spread towards his house. He raced back to warn his family.

As he ran he cursed the wind, cursed the dryness, cursed the lack of provision for fire-fighting, even cursed his house being made of wood.

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