What sounded like gunshots woke me. The window at the head of my bed was wide open — pop, pop, pop flowing in on the cool breeze. I heard similar noises a few evenings before but they stopped and the night fell quiet again. This morning, the pops were followed by shouting, swearing, more pops. A dog barked himself hoarse. I looked out the window and saw a fireball. Oh shit.
I got up, pulled on sweats, called 911. Roan was under the table — his safe place. He had slept through a lightning strike in southern Alabama and Fourth of July fireworks in Milwaukee. This was different.
I grabbed my headlight but didn’t need it. A waning full moon lit the sky. I walked down Low Road towards the flashing lights then turned around. The fire department and police were on the scene.
On my way back to Pegasus, I stopped at A. and J.’s camp, kitty-corner from where I was parked on the northwest edge of the Travelin’ Pals Club. I had met the young couple and their black and white Siberian Husky the day before. They seemed cool and I knew they were up. Their car light was on when I walked down Low.
“Hello?” I called softly towards the now-dark SUV. J. opened the back passenger door. They were bedded down, Zoe tucked in safe and sound.
A. had run towards the fire. Their friends were camped nearby.
“I tried putting the fire out,” he said, “I grabbed a bucket but it was melted. There was nothing I could do.” Thankfully he grabbed a propane tank.
“There are crazy people out here,” I said.
As soon as the slightest hint of light lit the eastern sky, Roan and I were up and out. Our walk purposely took us past the now burned-to-the-ground Coffee Camp. People were moving about in the gray pre-dawn.
“Does anyone know about the puppy?” I asked a man making coffee in the back of a van. G.’s dog Honey had a litter of nine in December. B. had one. The Coffee Camp was his place.
“They didn’t make it,” a female voice shouted from somewhere.
I learned that two people and two puppies were in the Coffee Camp. B. came tearing out of his trailer with just a thermal long-sleeved shirt on; someone gave him pants before he was arrested. A woman escaped the inferno as well. The puppies didn’t. Both were Honey’s.
C. and E. had been at Slab City for only 18 hours. Head and body draped in a blanket, E. stood, quiet. Their camper was parked across from the Coffee Camp. I hugged E., C., and another guy and then walked back up Low Road, crying for the puppies.
Fire is the weapon of choice in Slab City. People get “burned out.” Set in the late afternoon a few weeks ago, the last fire destroyed a small travel trailer. A man in a dark red pickup towing a trailer with an ATV came back to a smoldering wet lump. He told the firemen he wasn’t surprised. Seems a man in a brown van had threatened him. Something about his dogs. Set at 4 AM, however, this fire was meant to kill. And kill it did.
Rumor at the Oasis Club later that morning was that B.’s mom may have set the fire. Or maybe it was a manufacturing accident. Does it even matter?
Roan and I left Slab City a few hours later.