Fight Fire with Pliers

“Did you break down?” my son asked as I entered the garage. Then he saw the fire extinguisher. “Oh! Did the DR mower catch on fire?”

“I don’t know,” I answered calmly. “Maybe.”

I mean, what is fire? If it’s shooting flames, then no. If it’s a lot of smoke and some smoldering bits of stuff, then yes, the DR caught on fire.

I love my DR mower. Officially, it’s a field and brush mower. You walk behind it and it chomps up big weeds, small trees, used cars and new bicycles. I think I read that DR stands for “Done Right” (painfully lame), but I think of it as “Destructo-Rotor.” It plows a damn path.

Only today it was on fire. Or nearly on fire, as we discussed. I had generated a good deal of smoke with the DR once before, when the weeds I was cutting got sort of tangled up in the engine and began to smolder. Today, though, it wasn’t weeds. It was a mouse house.

When the DR started smoking, I pulled from the engine area charred pieces of grass, shredded paper and what looked like insulation. A mouse’s nest. That part of the engine is marked “CAUTION HOT” and it was. After I fried the fingerprints off two fingers, I went to the garage and fetched my No. 1 tool of all time: needle-nose pliers. (Full disclosure: I am ignorant about tools and engines, even when fire is not a factor.)

And I grabbed a fire extinguisher as well. Better safe than seared-ey.

Extracting the smoldering bits of mouse house went much better with the pliers, but the smoke was still rising. I decided to gamble on blowing hard into the engine block. Best-case scenario was blowing out the fire, something I routinely did while trying to start a fire in the fireplace. Worst-case scenario was supplying air to a few sparks that needed only oxygen to become a full-blown blaze. And the gas tank was close by.

I checked to make sure I could reach the fire extinguisher. What’s the correct technique for using one? I tried to remember the directions. “Sweep the left” went through my mind several times, until I realized I was confusing fire-fighting advice with the order from the evil sensei in “The Karate Kid.”

“Sweep the leg.”

Did I have a problem with that? No, nor did I have a roaring fire. After a few rounds of blowing and plucking out scraps of the mouse’s nest, the smoke ceased. I then returned the fire extinguisher to the garage—briefly explaining its role to my son—and went back to mowing.

Maybe I should have let the DR cool off awhile longer or maybe waited to take it to a repair shop. I wasn’t worried, though. I had kept the needle-nose pliers in my pocket.