The Big Heat of 1962

or

Fire in the Woods! - Play "FIRE CALL"!

Story By

Brian V. Brunner('64),

Phillip M. Potts('63), and

Lewis D. Harrison('63)


   This story starts in the early spring of 1962 in the grassy area between the lakes. This area is all woods now, but back then both lakes were the same level with a canal connecting them. The grass was tall and still dead from winter.

   How it started I didn't know at the time. But Phil Potts('63) told me recently it started out as a baseball game. He said that an upperclassman, we don't know who, and a group of cadets were going to play a baseball game down near the Lake Mary dam.

   I don't know why this was going on because it was after Drill and P.E. in the late afternoon. Maybe they were the famous LWMA baseball team, I don't know. But at the time I was headed down to the lake area just for a little walk. (Really I was not going AWOL.) As I was crossing the new (dirt and unused) football field when this cadet came running up to me saying the woods were on fire. By this time I could see a lot of white smoke billowing into the sky in that direction. I told him to have the CQ play "Fire Call"and call the Camp Hill Fire Dept. (I'm sure now that someone else must have told him the same thing before I did.)

   I wasn't too sure if anyone would know what "Fire Call" sounded like, but word got around fast. I don't know who organized the students, but they did a good job. The cadets grabbed what they could, blankets, wet towels, brooms, mops, rakes, branches, etc. and headed for the woods.

   As the other boy ran to the CQ office in Russell Hall, I ran in the opposite direction toward what is now the north end zone and into the road bearing off to the left past the football field.

   I soon realized I needed something to bat the fire down with myself, so I looked around and pulled a small pine tree up from the ground. This sapling was only about as tall as I was, but it made a good green full limb to beat the fire with. The fire was still in the dry grass near the lake but it was being blown by the wind into the pine thicket where I was. Of course the ground under the pine trees was covered with dry brown pine needles. We tried our best to keep the fire from getting up into the tops of the trees.

   I was fighting the fire in four-foot tall grass on the left side of the road when I noticed the fire was moving around me to the left and to the right. I did not want to be surrounded by the fire so I backed out of that location PDQ, or "Pretty Damn Quick" as my mother use to say. By this time quite a few cadets were there and I got with them in a line to try to stop the fire. That worked well and we started winning the battle. I'm sure there were some staff members, teachers, and older cadets directing the younger guys. Then things began to quiet down as the fire was dying out.

   Now we heard the siren on the 1948 Ford Camp Hill fire truck* as it came over the big hill by the football field! When they arrived at the fork in the road they went right instead of left! Why they went that way with all of us waving and yelling at them to come our way I'll never know. I guess someone was pointing them to where the fire started near the dam. They came back a few minutes later, but by then the LWMA students and teachers had the fire out! They may have poured water on the smoldering grass and pine needles for all I know, but the danger of the fire getting out of hand was over. In fairness I have to say that the Camp Hill Fire Department was an all volunteer unit and I'm sure they got there as fast as they could with what equipment they had.

   Later I noticed that most of the tall pine trees in the thicket were scorched as high as four feet up their trunks. I was just glad it never went to six feet.

   Now back to the part about the baseball game that I missed. Well, these guys needed a home plate to start the game. Having nothing good to use one cadet pulled out his cigarette lighter to" BURN" a home plate in the grass. This might have worked if the grass had been green! But the grass was the same color as hay! In other words, this was a "BAD IDEA"! After he lit the grass he soon found out it was burning faster than he could stomp it out. He was almost encircled by the fire too! He jumped out of the fire and someone sent one of the boys to the CQ office. Then I entered the picture talking to him a short time later.

   I know that there were other fires on our campus that caused a lot of damage. The first Ross Hall burned to the ground and so did the first Allen House. There was a dinning hall near the location of the Brooks rifle range that burned down and the current Ross Hall was rebuilt into a dining hall to replace it. (What is now the Armory was the kitchen.) And of course there was more than one fire in Friendly / Kirkland Hall before it was demolished in 1992. But had that little grass fire in 1962 become a real forest fire.... What a mess that could have been!


* I assume you are wondering how I would know the fire truck was a 1948 Ford. No, I never saw a brand new one, as I was three years old that year. But in the summer of 1960 after my first year at LWMA I had to go to work at Mt. Berry School for Boys in Rome GA. And part of my work had to do with loading and riding in a 1948 Ford dump truck. The cab the Camp Hill fire truck was identical to that 1948 Ford dump truck. The only outside deference between the two truck cabs, besides the lights and siren, was one was red and the other was black. I had to attend MBSB in the 1960-61 school year, but I returned to LWMA at the start of the 1961-62 school year. The same year as the fire! (That year I was a sophomore, Phil Potts and Lewis Harrison were juniors.)

BVB.


Postscript

I asked Phil Potts why they were playing baseball in that area, and he added a these two notes about his view of what happened. (I lost the first one and asked him again. Then he sent the second note. I recently found the first note again in August of 2002)

Also, in August of 2002, I asked Lewis Harriason to read the story and write down what he remembered about the fite. His reply is below Phillip Potts' thoughts.

BVB.


Updates

From: Phillip M. Potts
DATE:11/12/1998 7:28 AM
Subject: the Big Heat of 1962

We had all been taken as a group down the road. I do not remember it as being voluntary, so I think we were marched. It was somebody's grand plan to have a togetherness activity.

We stopped at what I think was a fork in the road. At any rate there was a clearing to the left. The leader told someone, "Right there." This someone then pulled a lighter from his pocket. He commenced to "burn" home plate. We were going to play baseball. The leader told this someone, "That's good enough, go mark the other bases." Someone tried to stomp out the two-foot circle of fire in the dry grass. The leader helped to stomp the fire. The circle just kept getting bigger. Three or four people, were all stomping at what was becoming a twelve-foot circle of blackened ground. Then all of us were doing whatever we could to stop the fire from spreading, but to no avail. That was when one of us was sent back to the campus to get help.

Shortly thereafter, Col Wesley Smith came back and told us all to get out.

And that was the story..:)


From Phillip M. Potts
DATE:10/19/1999 9:45 PM
Subject: the Big Heat of 1962

I can't imagine why we were even doing such a thing.

I thought that all the staff told us to get our "selves" out of there. Maybe some stayed to play fireman but they seemed to not want to be liable for crispy crunchy cadets.


FROM Lewis Harrison
Date: 8/9/02 1:50PM
Subject: the Big Heat of 1962

I had to work after Drill each day and that day I was working in the Armory under the latrines in Tallapoosa Hall when this fire took place. I remember everyone talking about it and the first time I became aware that there was something wrong is when the Camp Hill fire truck came down the dirt road behind Tallapoosa Hall.

I like the story. There were two Y in the road. The first Y went to the middle that separated the two lakes. There was usually a log or some type of Cadet made bridge to cross. The second Y: Left was the lakes and right was an old logging road that deed ended into a fence. I remember the fire at the first Y. We camped there a lot. I think it was because we new we could get back if something went wrong.

Take care and keep posting those stories.


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