Thursday, March 22, 2007

FIRE! (again...)

A couple of weeks ago a poorly placed candle ignited the rice husks and straw lining the composting toilet over at Baan Thai (recently renamed the Panya (Thai for wisdom) Project).

Over at Pun Pun we had just finished dinner and were celebrating Adam's birthday with beer, whiskey, wine, cake and cookies. The call came "Fire at Baan Thai!" and we rolled our eyes and groaned "Not again?!?"

This time it wasn't the villagers burning the surrounding forests. From across the hill at Pun Pun we could see flames reaching fifty, sixty feet in the air and originating from a spot dangerously close to the community's main sala.

So, bellies full of curry, beer, cake and cookies, we sprinted over to fight the fire. I grabbed hoes and shovels from the tool shed along the way. Right away Pi Jeni dove headlong into the flaming dungpile to try to bring the blaze under control.

The flames were so intense I thought my face was going to melt off. The smell was incredible: burning eucalyptus, bamboo, straw, hardwood and thatch, plus human excrement as well as bags of cow and chicken manure that were stacked next to the building. I knew that the tall grasses grew right up to the back of the structure, so immediately I headed around the back and started hoeing under hot coals and flaming embers and throwing dirt over everything that was on fire. The heat was so intense that my clothes were soaked through with sweat within seconds.

Just then I noticed the mango tree growing right up against the back of the outhouse. The flames were so hot that the limbs hissed with the sound of boiling sap and escaping steam. Any moment that tree was going to burst into flame. Then -- forgetabouit -- the fire would surely spread to the whole hillside, taking Christian's house and who knows how much else with it. So I sprinted for the tool shed and returned armed with a bow saw.

In a matter of seconds I brought down several branches that were the most exposed to the heat and flames. Limbs and spatters of molten mango sap rained down on me, as well as on Pi Jeni who was in the thick of it and Ryan who was leaping in and out of the action snapping photos. (All the shots in this post are his.)

We finally managed to get the situation under control, everyone working together to smother the embers with dirt and douse the flames with buckets of water. Until the day before, Baan Thai was in the midst of a water crisis as their well had dried up. They had just finished digging a new and deeper well, and begun pumping water to fill their tanks the day of the fire. It was lucky the fire happened when it did and not earlier or there would have been nothing to do but watch it burn and spread!

Two weeks later, however, small parts of the pile are still smoldering, and the smell of burned excrement still hangs in the air.

As for me, the nest morning my hair was gummed together and sticky with mango sap. It wasn't coming out with warm water, shampoo, nothing. So I figured the time had come for a new hairdoo -- something a little more minimalist...

Workin' the hoe while the heaping dungpile blazes up!

Pi Jeni is a machine! Look at him climbing barefoot over the hot coals!

Here I am workin' the bow saw and trying to save what I can of the mango tree while Pi Jeni launches an attack on the flames.

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