Too Close for Comfort!

By , June 16, 2017

Aly made an extremely disturbing discovery Thursday: scorch marks on the cabin!

A couple months ago, I found a jug of partly full of white vinegar washed up on the beach. At the time, this seemed a valuable find; we use white vinegar often, so we welcomed this free windfall.

I transferred the liquid to a glass jug and set it on the shelf outside the front door. As it had been in the ocean for an unknown time, we kept it separate from our other vinegar, and limited its use to cleaning. We soon learned that it was contaminated with sea water, which reduced its usefulness, prolonging its stay on the shelf. It didn’t seem to do any harm there, and got seen often, to remind us to use it.

“Didn’t seem” is the operative phrase here. As Aly discovered, it could have destroyed us utterly.

Sunlight through liquid in jug scorches cabin wall

Scorch marks, and the jug that caused them (Photo: Sarah A. Zeiger).

Aly found scorch marks in short bands on the shelf and the shakes on the wall behind it. It appears that sunlight falling on the jug got focused through the liquid, effectively becoming a magnifying lens. Had conditions been slightly different: a little stronger breeze, a fraction more light intensity, who knows what, and we could have lost our home to fire.

As soon as she told us about this, I remembered that fire prevention crews in Alaska’s interior often police the ground for broken glass, removing it to reduce just such a danger. I’m not just being paranoid—it could happen!

This explains why Michelle smelled wood smoke in the dooryard on days when we had no fire in the stove.

How in the world did we avoid burning the cabin down? It troubles me deeply to think how close we came to complete disaster. Other than catastrophic illness, a structure fire here would be our greatest calamity. Municipal fire crews come to Mud Bay Road and watch, ready to help in Mud Bay if a fire there get out of hand. It’s inconceivable that they would find out about, or respond to a fire out here. We’d be completely on our own.

Sunlight focused through liquid creates scorch marks on cabin

Needless to say, we moved the jug immediately after taking photos: (Photo: Sarah A.Zeiger).

For this reason we always check that wood stove and the water heater are properly banked, and the propane stove off before leaving the house. Even so, I’m haunted by the possibility of fire while we’re away. A careless, smoking day hiker, a moment’s forgetfulness in the cabin, a pile of oily rags or—as Aly mercifully discovered—a simple bottle of liquid in the wrong place could bring our beloved lifestyle to an abrupt and bitter end. We walked a blade’s edge, and narrowly escaped—this time.

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