Firestarter

#1: 1998, somewhere near Semmering, Austria.

Dan and I are hitch-hiking from Vienna to Bruck an der Mur. We are abandoned near Semmering and fail to get an onward lift so end up rolling out our sleeping bags in the woods off the road. It is April and cold so we start a fire, a beautiful pyre that warms our weary bones.  Flashing blue lights. Someone had seen the glow and called the Polizei. Once they establish we are English students and not illegal Serbian immigrants, the police leave us to our woodland beds but join us in urinating on the fire (seriously). Freezing night. Awake to see a mouse looking at me.

#2: 2009, Traunsee, Austria.

The last night of a wonderful few days in the mountains. We bivvy down by the side of the lake underneath the mighty Traunstein. The fire is sublime but catches the attention of a forest ranger who drives down to inspect. Again, Dan leaves me to talk my German way out of trouble. The ranger doesn’t mind the fire but warns us of rockfall and suggests that if we stay the night there is a good chance a boulder will roll down the mountain and crush our heads in our sleep. “But you can stay if you want to.” Er, no. We reluctantly kick out the fire and move on.

#3: 2009, Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire.

A few miles from our home there is a secluded little wood that has a perfect bedding plateau — dry canopy overhead and a pine needle bed below. One match, some paper, a handful of pine needles. Fire! Then Dan sees a light. A farmer is driving his truck in the field below, a beam of light scouring the valley and the trees on the side. The light hits us and we frantically throw dirt on the fire. Is he looking for us? The fire reignites. Crap. The truck stops.

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