It’s funny how certain events can trigger a memory that had long since been forgotten.
Recently in Cambridge, Ontario the town was wrought with a series of arson’s in one particular neighbourhood. Within a 10 block span, four fires were set to curbside furniture and even a house undergoing renovations. The stone house suffered nearly $100,000 in damage. Images of the fires were shown on the national news, bringing the national eye on my hometown. Police are looking for links between the fires and many are certain that it is the work of a single or a group of arsonists as all the fires were started around 4am.
Back when I was in college my parents helped me out with getting my first car. It was a Pontiac 6000 – otherwise known as a glorified K-Car. I liked to think my car was a class above as it had unique seats from two different cars and a sunroof. I loved that car and I loved driving it. That could be why I chose to take a different direction home from a friends house. Or at least I think it was my friend’s house. It’s strange how every other aspect of that night has been erased from my memory except for the drive home.
I grew up in the north side of Galt, a section of Cambridge that was across the river from my boyfriend at the time and several freinds. Because I was across the river, I had to cross over one of three bridges in order to make it back home. I was over there a lot and normally drove the same way each time. I’d shake it up every once in awhile by taking a different street closer to the river, or a different bridge, but the way I chose to drive that night was not a way I had ever gone before.
The West side of Galt had streets running in two directions – to the river or perpendicular. I knew that by taking all streets heading in one direction I would get closer to the bridge I needed to cross. I don’t know what compelled me to go down this street on that night, and I can’t even tell you the exact street but I remember the look of the houses and I remember what I saw that night clearly and vividly.
Even in the dark of night I was impressed by the big two story houses that were built around the start of the 20th century. Big red brick and yellow brick houses complete with dormers and big sweeping porches. Each house a testament to old Galt. Built in a time of opulance and growth in the town and long before Galt was amalgamated to become Cambridge. I remember looking up at the big oak and maple trees each tall and strong. You could tell that the trees had been growing for many years – more than I had been alive to see.
The street was quiet, with many residents already nestled safely in their warm beds. It was a calm contrast to the bustling cross street I had taken to get there. I remember remarking how peaceful everything was. Little did I know that my vision of that street would be forever changed.
Halfway to the top of the hill I could tell something wasn’t right. There was an unnatural glow. As I pulled up I noticed a huge fire burning on a pile of autumn leaves lining the gutter on the left side of the street. The flames were at least 12 feet high and were coming dangerously close to the bottom of the trees above. Being autumn there were leave piles all down the street and I could see the fire spreading to all trees and ultimately to all the gorgeous old homes.
As I looked at the flames I was struck by someone standing behind the flames – eagerly watching them get bigger and higher. He must’ve been about 13 – eyes glowing with an evil look of satisfaction as the flames grew. When he saw me they grew wide and he ran off between two houses – but not until after staring at me for what felt like minutes but was probably mere seconds. I was certain that this was the person who had started the fire and let the flames grow until they became perilously close to causing massive amounts of damage.
Back then I didn’t have a cell phone but knew I couldn’t just stay there. I drove my car as fast, and as safely as possible to a nearby store and called 911. Having never called in an emergency before I was nervous but the evil look in that boys eyes was resonating in my head. I was all alone as I rushed into the phone booth and made the call. Even with their hundred questions, I knew that I was potentially helping a young arsonist before they moved onto bigger and potentially more dangerous fires. Hopefully with my strong description they were able to determine who it was that set the fire and were able to teach him the error in his ways.
Simply as a concerned citizen, I’ll never know if the young boy I saw was ever caught but I like to think that my actions may have saved lives.