The Day I Burned Down OB Beach..

Discussion in 'Surfing' started by Surfnfish, Jul 12, 2019.

  1. Surfnfish

    Surfnfish Well-Known Member

    Feb 6, 2015
    Devils Lake, Oregon Coast
    the thread on coastal erosion got me to thinking about my experiences at OB over the decades, and this one was a friggin doozy...

    Back in 58’, my cousin and I lived near each other in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, just a couple of blocks from Ocean Beach.

    At that time, almost the entire 3 miles stretch of OB was covered in driftwood. Not talking about a scattered collection to pick your steps through, rather visualize a massive wall of wood 15’ high, dozens of yards deep, impenetrable in some locations. A wall formed by anything and everything that bobbed and floated, and was eventually pushed eastward and ashore by massive winter swells and howling winds, driven further and further up the beach during peak high tides, until becoming lodged against the older detritus of centuries.

    And during the 1800’s into the early 1900’s, SF Bay was an exit port for an endless stream of logs that had been cut in the surrounding hills and mountains and loaded aboard schooners, to be brought to a wood hungry southern california where it would be turned into framing material.

    Loaded aboard schooners that had to encounter the infamous Potato Patch, an extremely dangerous reef just offshore from the Golden Gate, where log after log went over the side in the heaving seas, to eventually drift ashore and add serious heft and depth to the wall.

    And as the population of SF increased the wall became a serious nuisance. The city used bulldozers to push wood north from the south end of the beach just enough to clear the Sloat section, and on the north end they would push wood south enough to clear the Kellys’ Cove to VFW section, adding to the density of the north and south edges of the wall.

    The wall was ugly, it blocked access along the vast majority of the beach except for where the bulldozer crews cleared regular paths, and it had become the home of hundreds of bums, the forefathers of today’s homeless, who would tunnel into the wall, clear out space, and create permanent camps for themselves. And so year after year the citizens demanded the city remove the wall, and the city responded with a shrug, asking how could they clear it, and were the taxpayers willing to pay to do it?

    And against this backdrop, one summer morning, my cousin and I, home alone at his house with his parents off at work, thought it was time to try one of those massive cigars his father was always smoking. Now, we knew if we took a fresh one from his prized humidor, he would immediately notice, and his pop was no one to piss off. So we found a decent enough stub left over from the previous night’s cigar and scotch session that was his pop’s usual, grabbed some kitchen long stick matches and headed to our secret spot, a little hidey hole that we had found within the wall ourselves and had covered the walls with old newspapers and cardboard to block the wind, and where we had secreted a titty magazine pilfered from his pop. The man knew how to live right.

    So off we went, an eight and nine year old with our prize, made the 5 min walk to our lair, settled down and just stared at it, neither one of us willing to be first. At which point my older cousin, 30 pounds heavier than me, a studly fellow who would be shaving at 14 and was the toughest kid I knew, decided I would try the cigar first, which meant I either just did, or got roughed up until I just did.

    Not knowing a damn thing about cigar smoking, I thought it was like a cigarette, which we had already tried, and so my cousin provided the flame, we roasted it until it got hot, then I clenched down on it and took a big inhale. And promptly lost my shit, convinced I had just been killed, projectile spitting the torched cigar from my lips, falling to the ground to where violent coughing was replaced with violent retching, and my now concerned cousin decided to help me by pounding on my ribs until I heard them creaking.

    Which is when I suddenly realized the smoke from the cigar hadn’t cleared and that it was suddenly getting very hot, at which point my cousin grabbed me by my shoulder, dragged me up, and we began frantically trying to shovel sand with our hands and throw it onto the paper and cardboard walls of our lair which were now fully ablaze.

    Within seconds we realized we were outmatched and fast crawled through the narrow, twisty passage until we were back on the street outside the wall. From where we could view the rapidly increasing plume of black smoke rising skyward, and hear the unmistakable sound of dry wood catching fire.

    At which point we beat feet for my cousins home and went to the rooftop where we had an eagles eye view of the wall. And of the flames that we could clearly see. And where we could plainly hear what seemed like the impending arrival of every fire engine in the city of San Francisco, as sirens screamed towards us from every direction to the east behind us.

    Within an hour the flames were 30’ high and the fire was fifty yards wide. By that afternoon, the entire wall of wood along Ocean Beach was ablaze, a solid wall of flames, the sun just a dim orange glow through the enormous cloud of smoke that hung over the beach and slowly drifted over the city. Roads were closed, sirens were non-stop, it looked like the end of the f’n world, and my cousin and I were absolutely terrified and convinced we were going to jail for the rest of our lives.

    Just before our parents were due at our respective homes, my cousin and I made a pact, which consisted of him telling me that if I ever breathed a word to this to anyone, he would beat the living crap out of me every day for the rest of my life.

    That night at dinner, all my parents talked about was the fire, and how whoever was responsible for it was going to be in big trouble. The front page of the SF Chronicle the next morning was all about the fire, and how whoever was responsible for it was going to be in big trouble. I literally spent the next 24 hours holed up in the house, claiming to be sick with a stomach ache. My cousin called to caution me again about clamming up, said he was holed up in his room, praying for a miracle that would get us out of the nightmare we had created for ourselves.

    On the second morning after the fire, the newspaper stated that not a single house had been lost, or a single person injured by the fire, and some were now starting to say they were glad it had happened

    And on the third morning after the fire, on the front page of the Chronicle in big letters, “Mayor Says Beach Fire Best Thing That Could Have Happened’, and went on to explain that the fire had solved a decades long problem because now the wood was gone, the bums were dispersed, and after the city bulldozers got through mixing the fire ashes into the sand, the entire beach would now be available to the public. And I realized I might actually have a life to look forward to after all.

    We moved later that year, and my cousin and I rarely saw each other for a while, and then not at all for decades.

    In the early 2000’s, the family decided to have an all branches family reunion, and after some planning we found a suitable venue, and on the designated date and time a large crowd of us began to filter into the event.

    It was fun seeing folks, catching up on lives lived, and not everyone had arrived yet when I headed to the bar to grab a beer. Leaning against it, I was trying to get the bartender’s attention through the din, when suddenly a pair of large, wrapped cigars landed on the bar surface in front of me, and a familiar voice from long ago said in my ear “what say we grab a couple of drinks and puff a cigar while we catch up outside?”
  2. DanSan

    DanSan Well-Known Member

    Jun 7, 2012
    USA California
    That was you?????
  3. garagefull

    garagefull Active Member

    Feb 22, 2004
    Santa Cruz
    Great story and a fun read. I'm sure you researched the statute of limitations for arson before you posted!
    WhiteRussian, deemce and jdogger like this.
  4. SDBoardHoarder

    SDBoardHoarder Member

    Sep 28, 2018
    San Diego
  5. SdSurferguy

    SdSurferguy Well-Known Member

    Oct 18, 2006
    Haha that was my first thought too
  6. strez

    strez Active Member

    Mar 23, 2012
    Hamilton, Massachusetts
    Excellent read! Glad you lived to tell the tale!
  7. mellowdays

    mellowdays Member

    May 5, 2007
    USA California
    interesting story there SurfnFish....

    got me to thinking about June 26, 1966

    yeah, I know that wasn't you, but was the first thing I thought of. (big fire near OB)
    Surfnfish likes this.
  8. Dawnpatrol

    Dawnpatrol Well-Known Member

    May 7, 2006
    Lance...…….epic read! Just glad that at the ripe ole age of 6 I moved out of Ortega Street a (two blocks east of OB) few blocks from the beach before your little weeny roast. Dad's bud, Jack O'Neill may have seen the sign and moved at that time to perpetuate surfing in Santa Cruz. Now I know whose ass I have to blame for the Lemming explosion! You really F'up surfing! LOL!
  9. Dawnpatrol

    Dawnpatrol Well-Known Member

    May 7, 2006
    And! May I add...……….we may have enjoyed years with Vaseline bodies and Salvation Army wool sweaters cut down as body vests!
  10. Driftwood

    Driftwood Well-Known Member

    Dec 2, 2014
    What a great read and great story, thanks!
    Surfnfish likes this.

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