The fuse is lit.

Yesterday I was at a Spring Green resale shop, when a man ran in, shouting, “Your dumpster is on fire! Call 911!”

Two clerks, several other customers and I ran outside. Flames leapt above the dumpster, nestled in a roofed alcove at the front of the one-story building. A clerk set a fire extinguisher on the ground. “I don’t know how to use this.”

A tall gray-haired woman picked it up. Seconds later, she had pulled off the plastic tie wound around the head of the cylinder and aimed it at the flames. Smoke billowed. A small explosion echoed from deep in the dumpster. But then the cylinder was empty. The flames as ravenous as ever moved up the corner of the roof.

I ran back inside. “Anyone in here?”

“Yes,” a clerk emerged from the back of the store.

“You need to get out. The roof has caught fire.”

I ran outside and jumped into my car, parked in front of the building. The gray-haired woman directed me as I backed out of harm’s way. Sirens sounded in the near distance.

Had someone tossed a cigarette butt into the dumpster? Had combustible materials self-ignited? One small event leads to another until they together erupt into reality.

The fire reminds me of Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery. Each small, researched fact and tiny realized “Aha!” build into a crescendo of a story—a story of hope as well as destruction.

Elsie’s Story is at the printer. See

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