A brush with fire

After six months without a drop of rain the landscape is straw-dry and waiting to be kindled. Practically every day you see lines of low flames tumbling down some hill or marching across a parched field. San Miguel’s rickety fire department may try to put out the brush fires particularly if they threaten someone’s property, but otherwise they are allowed to burn until cut off by a road or a natural barrier.

This morning Félix spotted some smoke at a neighbor’s ranch about a kilometer away. We figured it wouldn’t affect us because the wind was blowing in the opposite direction. Bad call: The wind suddenly changed direction and the flames headed straight for our house at an alarming pace.

If it hadn’t been for Félix’s alertness and agility–plus some long pieces of garden hose from the other end of the property–the flames could have reached the foundations of the house. Instead, by chasing the line of flames with the hose he managed to stop the fire in an hour and within about 200 feet of the house.

Damage to the small trees we had planted is likely to be minimal, and for that we again have to thank Félix for surrounding the spindly trunks with a circle of rocks about six feet wide. The weeds, bushes and cacti should recover. For now the only visible damage is a patch of burned ground covering about ten percent of the property.

In the middle of all the running-around I had a particularly silly idea–calling 066 and summoning the fire department. After three calls and endless rings someone finally answered and he assured me help was on the way. No one ever came.

Foreigners in San Miguel love to regale each other, and friends and family back home, with tales of our ridiculously low property taxes. Ours are $350 dollars a year. Problem is of course that you pay hardly anything but get about as much in basic municipal services such as fire and police protection.

This experience also demonstrated that our new monster Doberman, Desi, needs some training in crisis management. When everyone started running around, reaching for hoses and shovels, Desi got spooked and ran to his bed in the storage room under the kitchen, there to wait for the emergency to literally blow over.

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