Pyromaniacs Out West

"We'll sit close to one another, Up one street and down the other, We'll have a time, oh brother, Settin' the woods on fire" -- Hank Williams Sr.

You may have noticed lately that large chunks of the western U.S. seem to keep catching on fire. These aren't run-of-the mill, backyard brushfires either. What I'm talking about are spectacular, astounding walls of flame-the stuff of arsonist fantasies.

One of the more notable blazes occurred earlier this year in New Mexico, where flames destroyed dozens of homes and threatened many of the buildings at the Los Alamos Nuclear Facility -- made famous as the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

The ironic part about that fire, though, was that it started at the hands of government foresters conducting a "prescribed burn." These are intentional fires designed to clear away dry underbrush and reduce the risk of more catastrophic fires.

The question before us, though, is not how the foresters could allow such a fire to get out of hand, but rather why it doesn't happen more often. This is because of one simple fact: foresters are all raging pyromaniacs.

Burn Baby Burn!

I say this based on my experience working with a ranger crew last year, where I learned that forestry people don't look at the woods the way normal folks do. To them, it's one vast pile of kindling. In fact, they look forward to a prescribed burn like it's a family picnic; but instead of having a backyard barbecue, they barbecue the backyard.

Like any good cookout, you've got to have the proper tools. And for foresters, the weapon of choice is usually a "drip torch," which is basically a scaled down flame-thrower that lobs hot streams of burning diesel fuel onto the forest floor. For really tough situations, though-when the underbrush is so thick that it's almost impossible to walk around-they bring out their secret weapon: the flaming ping-pong ball.

Forestry Gump

The flaming ping-pong ball is a weapon of the air. Using a souped-up helicopter, the fire crews fly over the woods armed with thousands of magnesium-filled plastic balls loaded into a special hopper. When they reach their targeted area, they pull a trigger and a device begins injecting the balls with a dose of anti-freeze and then shoots them out the helicopter door. After about 30 seconds, the anti-freeze starts reacting with the magnesium-and when it does: Whoooosh!

In a way, I can't blame the rangers for liking their fires. After all, who wouldn't get a thrill diving over the forest in an apocalyptic fire chariot watching their hail of inferno-eggs hatching in the underbrush-all in the name of ecology! I'm surprised we even have to pay them. And speaking of pay, who the hell is actually buying all these talking fish?

The Mystery of the Talking Fish

By now, everyone's probably familiar with "Billy Bass", which is a plastic replica of a large-mouth bass mounted as if it were a trophy on somebody's wall. When you walk by, it has a sensor that triggers the fish to move its head and either sing "Don't Worry, Be Happy" or sling some snappy phrase like "Why did you kill me, you evil bastard?"

Though the fish is indeed amusing for approximately 2.2 seconds, I still can't figure out why people are willing to pay $29.95 for this electrified monstrosity. For my money, a better bet is one of the cheap, flea market imitations such as the "Malicious Mackerel," which is programmed to insult anybody who comes near it: "Say, did you know that every time you go in the ocean you're swimming in my poop? You must be a real moron! I hope you choke on your next fish stick."

From Talking Bass to Talking Ass

If I were smart, though, I'd jump on the bandwagon with my own product idea: the talking deer's ass. Just think of the wonderful possibilities. Instead of a deer head up on the wall, you mount a fur-covered replica of a deer's rear-end and have it "talk" by lifting up it's tail. Yes indeed, the sportsman in your home is bound to love looking up a deer's butt and having it say "You killed Bambi's mom" or singing "Rudolph the Brown Nosed Reindeer" at Christmastime. That would be so special.

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