Brush fires are a serious problem in Southern California. High temperatures, no rain and the ever present Santa Ana winds make it especially threatening in the summertime.
While living near Alta Laguna Park in Laguna Beach a few years ago, I called '911' to report someone smoking a cigarette in the park.
People do not realize how quickly a spark from their cigarette could become a towering inferno. Living next door to the park made me feel very vulnerable, especially with the thought of some idiot unknowingly flicking his cigarette butt into the bushes .
Unbeknowst to me at the time, while calling 911 from my NJ cell phone, I was connected to the police dept in NJ. I wanted to reach the Laguna Beach police dept. Good to know for the future.
The operator answered, "911, What's your emergency ?"
I responded, "I'd like to report someone smoking a cigarette in the park".
He must have thought I was a nut and once he realized I was calling from out of state, he told me to call my local police department.
Soon after this, a sign was put up at the entrance to the park, announcing a $1,000 fine for smoking in the park. The threat of fires was that serious.
In the evenings, I would make my husband drive by the park on our way home to see if anyone was not complying. He would humor me and turn off the car lights while we drove slowly around looking for the burning ends of cigarettes. I became the neighborhood cigarette vigilante.
During my first week living in Cortona, I came upon a small brush fire near my home while walking my dog.
The fear of fires still fresh in my mind, I ran to my neighbor's house to have him call the fire department. To be honest, I haven't even seen a fire truck here and am not sure of the protocol for reporting one. Even if I knew the phone number for emergency, which I don't, I don't speak enough Italian to get my emergency across. Another reason to improve my Italian.
My neighbor explained that it was a farmer burning wood clippings and it's perfectly fine and legal here.
(There are restrictions for when you can burn and the amount)
Two weeks later, I had a friend over for a visit and my neighbor's fire was causing so much smoke, I had to close all my windows. The smoke permeated my house and became so bad, we had to leave.
The next day the neighbor was out burning again. Huge dark plumes of smoke drifted from his property straight to my home. I couldn't breathe. I was furious.
This Jersey girl was going to give this Tuscan farmer a piece of her mind.
I put on my boots and huge rain hat. I'm not sure why.
Perhaps so the neighbor would not recognize me.
But first I had to get around his dog, who was intent on humping my leg.
The farmer's wife came out of the barn with a kerchief on her head and greeted me. I was trying to get her dog off of me and started yelling in my best Rosetta- Stone Italian something to the effect of the smoke is killing me. I was swinging my arms around saying 'Morto' and 'Fumo' and making gagging noises .
She must have thought I was some crazy American , well I guess I was at this point.
She yelled to her husband, who was tending to his smoky fire and he went to retrieve a bucket of water to extinguish it.
He put it out. It was that simple.
I guess I didn't need to be so dramatic. I just put a kebosh on something they have been doing for generations.
Walking back home, I started feeling like what I had promised myself I would never be, an obnoxious American.
And now when the farmer passes by on his tractor, I give him a friendly wave.
He doesn't wave back.