How I Almost Burned Down the Garage, the Fence, and Myself

How Safe is Your Home?

William Spivey
3 min readDec 5, 2023

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https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/jpg/burn_barrel_sm.jpg

City dwellers who aren’t of a certain age won’t know that people used to burn their trash in the back of their homes. In my case, we had an alley neatly bisecting the block lengthwise, and every house had a burn barrel to incinerate trash. People were encouraged to recycle newspapers by donating to elementary school paper sales, but most waste was burned, with black smoke permeating the air before the EPA deemed it wrong.

It was the kind of task often given to a young boy or girl—excellent training for a budding pyromaniac or arsonist. I was the second oldest of four boys, and my older brother and I rotated the task of burning the trash. On one occasion, my life flashed before my eyes as I was sure I was going to burn down our garage and fence, if not also the house and neighborhood.

We had a detached, one-car garage behind our house with car access from the alley. The alley itself was dangerous, and while the speed limit was either 5 or 10 mph, there was that time a car sped through trying to elude the police, giving chase. Kids played in the alley, and the racing car interrupted our kickball game. I was supposed to be watching my youngest brother, a toddler, but I was on second base and couldn’t get to him in time. Fortunately, one of my friends grabbed…

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