St. Louis (SAPP) - The 2012 Olympics in London will be getting no help from the U.S.A. this year. Drought, heatwave, and burn bans have crippled the effort to send the Olympic Flame through the Midwest this year. But this may soon change.
"This torch carrying thing was a fiasco. I never realized what a fire hazard that thing is," says Sheriff George Ballard of Gibson County, Indiana. Gibson County is currently under a strict "Burn Ban" that prohibits open fires throughout the county. Although this would normally preclude something like the Olympic torch from being carried, Gibson County was on the route selected by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC).
Sherriff Ballard goes on. "We are experiencing severe drought, 105 degree temperatures, and we have a Burn Ban. So when the torch came through, we were asking [the USOC] to keep us updated on their progress through the county. And so when a huge fire started in a pasture adjacent to I-64, we were surprised to learn that it was started by the torch and [the torchbearer] tried to put it out himself without letting us know." (The torchbearer's name was reported to be either Barry Larkin or Bert Button, although his name was not released by the USOC.)
The sheriff is talking about the "Wadesville fire" that started on the feeder road of Interstate 64 on June 28. It has already burned 150,000 acres and it is not yet contained. The fire, located about 3 hours from St. Louis, was apparently started when the torchbearer laid down the torch to relieve himself on the side of the road. Thinking that the torch would be safe, and considering that the stop would only take a few minutes, the man carrying the torch inadvertently set it on a bag of trash.
"He put it right on top of a discarded Wal-Mart sack. It was 11:00 o'clock at night, and he didn't see the bag. And he definitely didn't know it contained one of those ubiquitous white shiny boxes emblazoned with the words, 'Great Value.' Those white boxes are a firefighter's nightmare. Somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of fires around here are due to Great Value boxes," says Harry Dillon, fire chief of nearby Wadesville.
Those white boxes with a nondescript yet menacing appearance have turned the U.S. into a tinderbox. According to statistics obtained by SAPP, the white Great Value boxes account for more fires than electric cars, lightning, cooking, smoking, and playing with matches COMBINED. The only source of fire that exceeds white Great Value boxes is smoking while pan frying fried chicken while simultaneously baking a turkey basted in bacon grease over an open fire pit next to a leaking propane cylinder turned upside down while watching an episode of Gilligan's Island (SWPFFC-BTBBG-OFP-LPCUD-GI).
Practically every county in Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kansas have banned the torch. It now has to wind its way through back roads and unpopulated areas to keep it moving. The torch is part of a heated debate by lawmakers, activists, lawyers, and people who watch Gilligan's Island while cooking. However, the state of Illinois seems to be making friends with the torch's route planners. It even seems that President Obama's re-election committee likes the torch, scheduling the President to appear at torch passing stations and having him give advice on how to carry the torch. "No, like this… You need to hold it like this," exclaims Mr. Obama as he brings the light of the torch close to his face for a photo-op as he beams a smile at the swarm of photographers vying to get their photo of Obama on the cover of Time.
In related news there has been a course change for the Olympic Flame as it passes through the Midwest on its way to the London Olympics. "We have decided to give runners longer breaks when nature calls. We will also have a 'safety torch stand' ready at all times so the torch doesn't have to be set on the ground. Each 'safety torch stand' is completely fireproof, being made of asbestos and coated with lead-based paint. But we are really excited that our trek through the Midwest will be slower. Since London's weather is the wettest on record for 2012, we decided to keep running through America's Furnace up until the day before the Olympics begin. We don't want rain putting out the torch," says Olympic spokeswoman Carly Inferno.
In related news there are now bloggers anticipating a new way to light the torch in London. "We figure that if the Midwest goes up in a blaze, that the embers will carry over the Atlantic and land on the torch pedestal in London," says Dee Winehouse of United Arsonists for Only Fire (UArOnFire). "We have calculated that there only needs to be 5 more SWPFFC-BTBBG-OFP-LPCUD-GI fires and 8 more Great Value white box fires around St. Louis and we will be on target."
It was unclear whether Ms. Winehouse intended to test her hypothesis.
UPDATE: There have been 3 SWPFFC-BTBBG-OFP-LPCUD-GI fires and 4 Great Value white box fires reported in a triangle drawn from Oklahoma City to Minneapolis to Pittsburg, all since the day we initially reported this story in June. A total of 870,000 acres have burned in the last two weeks.