For reasons unbeknownst to me (I think it was a collaboration day at his school) Mr W was off yesterday. I had not arranged anything with his dad, so I took half a day off and worked half a day. I was busy doing bracelet stuff in the living room, which looks out to my yard as well as the neighbors' yard.
It was kind of noisy outside because the city was doing its leaf clean up, so there were street sweepers doing their thing, and tiny leaf bits being blown around. Around mid-morning, I'm standing behind Mr W, and he says, "Is that smoke?"
I jump the gun and say, "I don't think so. I think it's leaf dust". Then I look more, and it sure looks like there is smoke coming from the direction of the neighbor's compost pile. I had seen one of them go to the pile earlier, and had noted it because I had let the dog out and was thankful that she didn't bark at him. I head outside in my sweatpants and slippers, step up onto their approximately 8 x 8 ft. pile and it is indeed smoldering. In fact, it's burning a hole down into the pile a few inches.
I walk (briskly) back to my house, give them a call, and they're not home. The message was something like, "Um, this is Linda from next door. Your compost pile is smoking and I'm going to dump some water on it." And that's what I do. I dump two buckets' worth and that douses it.
This leaves me a little shaken. The pile is full of dry leaves, and sits on the property line, at the base of my wonderful (and about 50' tall) fir tree. It's between my neighbors' and my old wooden garages. It's entirely possible that the garages (maybe the tree?) could have caught fire. The corner of the roof of my garage is a few inches from my house.
The thing is, I am almost NEVER home at that hour. If I hadn't been there, things really could have turned out badly. They called later and left a message on the machine, obviously a little shaken at what could have happened and promising to check the ashes to their smallish outdoor fire pit much more carefully in the future. Those ashes sat all night, with lows in the 20's, and were still hot enough to burn leaves.
It's a head scratcher. I send sincere thanks to the circumstances that allowed me to notice.