We must start this item by heaping peons of praise upon the gallant Farkham and district reserve firemen who brought under control the two biggest fires recorded in the area since the "Farkam Inferno" of 1792. That was started deliberately by a gang of Luddite farm workers protesting against farm automation and a swingeing cut in the cider ration. The resultant conflagration destroyed the crops of Farkham Hall and five neighbouring farms. The purpetrators would undoubtedly have been hanged had they not starved to death first.
Attending with Assistant Chief Fire Officer Lyndon Bridge, based in the nearby Stopham Burning Fire Station were local heroes:
Harry "The Hosepipe" Hotchkiss
Dusty "Dry Powder" Dickens
Ernie "The Extinguisher" Easington
Fred "Firebuckets" Fieldranger
Charlie "CO2" Cockender
Bert "Blazer" Beddington
To make their task even more difficult, the two fires took place a couple of miles apart, in Potymouth and Potyford. The causes, however, were not so disparate.
In celebrating the visit of the party of Scouts from Old Bishops Fancy, there was to be a grand turning on of the power at the new Backpackers hostel at the back of Oilmen Acres Dene, with particular emphasis on the new outdoor lighting system installed by our very own Assistant Scout Leader, Paul Watt-Cable. After the ceremony, all were due to decamp to the second scout billet in a field just up the road in Potyford.
The turning on of the lights didn't go quite as expexted, they flickered for a few seconds before returning to their former dormant state. Poor old Mr Watt-Cable looked desprately crestfallen before the moment was saved by Ivor Parrish, the appallingvicarbastard of the Farkhams. "I believe we have a sing-song and delicious barbecue awaiting us... shall we?" As one, the assemblage headed for the minibuses without another thought. Shame really. Nobody thought that the lights may benefit from being turned off, even though they were not working.
That one click may have prevented a disastrous sequence of events. What nobody had considered at this time was the profound colour-blindness of Paul Watt-Cable. Meanwhile, unseen, a junction box, adjacent to the rubber hose from one of the LPG bottles for the on-demand water heaters was getting warmer and warmer.
The bus may or may not have arrived at the Potyford camping field when the one spark that was all it would take, took place. Cause and effect get muddled here as something started to burn. Nobody knew what at the time, but the end result was the same. Very shortly, the two timber bunkhouses were well and truly ablaze. Luckily, Major Farr-Coope had stayed on at the Dene, and called the Fire Service, who quickly dispatched the above named heroes to the scene.
Meanwhile at Potyford, the communal singing was in full swing. The little angels from the St Olav the Insignifiant were holding forth with selections from the Hymnal Ancient and Modern while the Scouts interjected with some more colourful ditties whenever there was a pause. In order to get the food under way, Paul Watt-Cable gathered a team of local Scouts to get the barbecue lit.
The brand new gas barbecue stood gleaming, awaiting its first commission. The newly filled propane container stood alongside. This barbecue was top of the range and included a three way union so that it could be connected as part of a network of barbecues should the size of the party demand it. The switching was simple, green for single barbecue use, blue to enable both inlet and outlet connectors, red for off. Of course being the responsible person he is, Mr Watt-Cable insisted on making the connections and setting the switch himself.
Being a great believer in allowing people to grow into responsibility, he selected a young, very inexperienced Scout to light the barbecue. Kirsten Small approached the apparatus with a degree of trepidation but was determined to face up to the task. Holding down the on button for the recommended thirty seconds to fill the cooking space with gas, she hit the igniter.
Boom! The flame front ignited the pool of gas that had been coming out of the network connector since the valve was opened some time before. This set fire to the cloth covering the table holding all the food and lit the stream of gas issuing from the network connector. Worse still, this pointed directly at the rubber hose from the bottle regulator, which sprung a leak that gave rise to another jet of flame.
The explosion had silenced all factions in the communal singing who turned to see the horrific image of a party of small Scouts engulfed in flame with Paul Watt-Cable trying to usher them away from the source, wearing a puffa jacket that was rapidly taking on the appearance of cling film.
When he finally managed to separate the gas bottle from its now burned through hose, he hurled it into the hedge, still belching flame from the end of the severed pipe. Naturally, this set fire to the poor, innocent hedge, as well as a number of dismantled nursery sheds that lay just behind. The dry grass soon went up too and the flames quickly spread to the tents.
Worse still, the neighbouring cesspit had built up a great collection of methane over the years since the Big House was deserted. Once ignited, this soon caused a violent explosion, blowing the top off the pit and distributing its contents liberally around the field, along with balls of fire, that immediately caused their own blazes, which quickly spread.
While calling the Fire Service on his mobile, Mr Watt-Cable happened to look downriver towards Potymouth. He could hardly believe what he saw on the horizon. The flames there were just as high above the water as those quickly spreading across the field and disused buildings surrounding him and the Scouts.
The wait seemed interminable, as the emergency services were all at full stretch dealing with the Potymouth blaze, so it was some time before they arrived at the campsite to find that everyone had been safely evacuated to the minibuses, which were parked in a layby just a few hundred yards away.
The grass fires were quickly extinguished by rolling a telegraph pole over the burning area. This allowed access for the fire engines so that attention could be paid to the buildings and the still burning "marsh gas" from the old cesspit.
The rest of the night was spent finding alternative accommodation for all the scouts, taking home the members of the choir of St Olav the Insignificant, explaining to concerned parents all the way round. However, I fear that there is going to be an investigation into the incidents and that there may be repercussions.
As always, I will keep you posted. At least we have Farkfest to look forward to next week, where nothing can possibly go this wrong, so keeping fingers crossed…
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