Heroism, not mine, saves day from pizza inferno


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For the record, I wasn’t trying to burn down my house on a day that was already so hot birds were bursting into flames in mid-air.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/06/2022 (218 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For the record, I wasn’t trying to burn down my house on a day that was already so hot birds were bursting into flames in mid-air.

No, what I was trying to do was feed my friends and family on a scorching Father’s Day by firing up my portable, wood-fired pizza oven in the back yard.

Spoiler alert: Things did not go as planned.

So there I was Sunday evening, sweating like a Butterball turkey on Thanksgiving, busily stuffing tiny bits of hardwood into the fire box of the stainless steel pizza oven I’d been given last year for my 65th birthday.

My wife was inside our air-conditioned home rolling out the pizza dough and laying on the delicious toppings.

In the den, my buddy Bob, the publisher of this newspaper, was either watching the end of the U.S. Open golf tournament on my big-screen TV or snoozing because he’d insisted on running his leg of the relay in the Manitoba Marathon, even though the event was officially cancelled because of the scorching temperatures.

Bob’s wife, Lena, briskly delivered the uncooked pizzas to me outside, watched as I slid them into my red-hot oven, then ferried the wood-fired culinary masterpieces back into the kitchen while I remained outside producing enough sweat to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

On a normal day, we would have eaten outside, but this was anything but a normal day, so we parked ourselves around the dining room table and tucked in.

Things were proceeding swimmingly for about half an hour until I noticed Lena, who had just finished another exhausting shift as a health-care worker at Grace Hospital, was staring out our back window with a look of grave concern etched on her face.

“I’m seeing a LOT of smoke in the back yard and I can hear something crackling!” is what she chirped, before walking to the window to get a better look, which is when she roared something along the lines of: “YIKES! THE PIZZA OVEN IS ON FIRE!!!”

Technically speaking, the steel pizza oven wasn’t on fire; what had happened is that burning embers had leaked from the oven’s fire box and ignited the wooden table it was sitting on. Just so you know, this was a handmade wooden table given to me by my pal Tony, who felt my new pizza oven deserved a special place on which to rest.

It would be an understatement to say that, in our time of pizza-related crisis, Lena leaped into action. Within seconds, she was outside assessing the situation, then ordering my buddy Bob to go into our kitchen and fetch a bunch of steel cookie sheets that she placed on top of the burning table to help douse the flames, which had reached an alarming proportion.

I would like to tell you that, in the moment, I acted in the heroic manner of a retired newspaper columnist, but that would be a blatant lie. What actually happened was, as I sprinted down the hallway, my aging brain seized up, causing me to forget the following two words: “fire” and “extinguisher.”

Which explains why I turned to my wife and shouted: “Dear, I’m going to need our flamethrower!”

My wife sensed I was somewhat confused. “Um, do you mean the fire hydrant, honey?” she chirped in reply.

“NO!” I snorted indignantly. “I need the… you know… the flamethrower!”

Which is when she handed me our kitchen fire extinguisher and I carried it outside, where I discovered roaring flames had already chewed a gaping hole in the wooden table, causing the pizza oven to fall about halfway through the opening.

I bravely stood there with my mouth open, gaping at Lena, who was now batting at the flames with a wet dish cloth and very calmly told me: “Put that away, Doug, and go turn on your garden hose! You should probably do that right now before the fire spreads any further!”

So that’s what I did. I chugged around the corner, turned on the water, then dragged the hose over to the flaming table and smouldering pizza oven and began dousing them with a stream of water, causing plumes of smoke and steam to fill the sweltering air.

So, hose in hand, I stood there for about 15 minutes until it was clear the flames had been adequately doused, with my buddy Bob looking on, his wife Lena surveying the situation and offering soothing remarks, and my wife happily shooting video of the pizza oven fiasco on her cell phone while simultaneously muttering disparaging comments about my failure to understand basic fire safety.

With the flames out, we returned to the air-conditioned indoors and soothed our jangled nerves with ice-cream and wine. My wife made jokes about how, thanks to our quick-thinking friend Lena, we would not be able to ask the insurance company to build us a new kitchen.

The good news is no one was hurt, the pizza oven will live to cook again, and my buddy Tony is now promising to fill the charred hole in the wooden table he made for me with a fireproof stone insert.

Also, and this is probably the most important thing, the pizzas, while somewhat singed, were really delicious.

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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