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Archive: 29 December 2003

Distant Fires

As I took out the garbage this evening, there was a bright orange flare to the south, swelling over a few seconds and then fading quickly.  It was bright enough that the ground was dimly illuminated; some time later, a distant roar could be heard.  There were a few more white flashes that followed, and shortly thereafter I heard sirens as well.  I honestly wondered if an airliner had crashed into one of the nearby suburbs.

Instead, it was a fire at a magnesium recycling facility about seven miles away from our house.  As I write this, a few hours later, the fire is still burning, and is expected to continue burning for 24 hours or more.  I’ve been hearing explosions several times an hour, some of them rather loud.  According to news reports, there is a series of magnesium storage silos currently sitting just outside the flames.  Every time I hear a new rumble, I wonder if it’s the silos cooking off.  In fact, I just heard a string of deep booms that could well be them.

In a weird way, this may be as close as I ever get to understanding what war is like.  No, of course it’s nothing like the same; I have basically no fear that I could be harmed by this fire, even if the storage silos go up.  But the glows on the horizon, and the semi-continual thunder that no cloud produces, imparts some of the foreboding and dread that I suppose a nearby armed conflict must instill.  It sounds like I always expected distant artillery would.

As a cold front moves through the area, the rain is picking up, clattering against the house with more force and volume.  In almost any fire, this would be a welcome relief for the firefighters, but in this case it’s almost the worst weather imaginable, as those of you who remember your chemistry classes will have realized.  There’s a horrible irony somewhere in there, especially given that it’s the end of December and today was rainy and in the low 50s.

Tonight my thoughts are with the firefighters who will spend hours upon hours fighting simply to keep the fire contained, knowing that they can’t try to douse the fire directly without making things worse.  All they can do is fight a defensive battle, and that has to be incredibly frustrating.  I only hope that they all make it through this safely, and are able to prevent any more damage to the area surrounding the plant.

December 2003
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