Note: The following names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
BRUSHFIRE FALLS, MD – A Maryland homeowner is set to appear in court to stand up to a local arsonist’s claims that he is endangering the community with his reckless lifestyle.
Juanito Fuego has been igniting houses in his hometown for over ten years. He has the highest number of fires on record and residents have come to appreciate his presence when he isn’t behind bars. Melinda Jones, who lost her home to Fuego’s practice back in 2005, has chosen to look on the bright side of the Falls native’s chosen profession.
“The fire was a shock at first, and I wasn’t thrilled to have to replace so many of my things,” Jones said. “But the more I looked at it, the more I realized it was a chance to start fresh, you know? I was finally able to let go of all those material goods I had been clinging on to for so long.”
“He’s a job creator is what he is. Every time Ol’ Juan is out of the slammer, our recruitment and response time go through the roof,” Fire Marshall Frank Grayson said.
In 2010 alone, the Falls saw a huge boost in revenue for the fire department, sprinkler installation and home insurance. But for some, it’s not just economic growth that Fuego represents, as longtime resident Cathy Brown explained:
“It’s just nice that someone from our area is behind it all,” Brown said. “I hear talk of so many towns that just let anybody from any city in for their crime; but here in the Falls we can trust it’s one of our own.”
Unfortunately, that sense of home-grown security and growth has been put at risk, thanks to what some are calling grave negligence.
In November of 2014, Alan Santos made headlines when his apartment was subject to a serious fire. Santos had recently moved into the Falls, and failed to account for the area’s harsh winters. To warm his small home, he purchased a space heater — also failing to account for the many, many fire precautions Falls residents have been conditioned to take.
“I never imagined my curtains would catch fire,” Santos said at the time.
He would later add, “I certainly never meant to step on anyone’s toes.”
But asking anyone in the town at that time, Santos had not only stepped on toes—he had run them over with a steamroller. In allowing his home to catch fire during a time when Fuego was free, Santos had, in the minds of many, trespassed and defiled something special to the town.
“At first we thought the preheat was over, so we were disappointed when we found out that this young man would just spit in Juanito’s face like that. ” Cathy Brown said.
(That anxious time between fires as the Falls waits to see which home with go up in flames has been colloquially referred to as the “Preheat.” The longest Preheat on record was nearly a full year in 2004. Fuego’s explanation for the long wait was that he was, “really getting into the Lord of the Rings in a big way, and those movies were really long.” )
“We train for Juan’s fires for months, “ Fire Marshall Grayson said, “so to tell my boys that what was supposed to be the most important fire of their lives this was just some outsider’s goof? I could hardly look them in the eye.”
Fuego himself was not immune to the town-wide negativity.
“I was more disappointed than anything,” he explained. “I’ve been at this for years, and to see someone so inexperienced try and get in on your turf is just kind of sad. It’s a lot of hard work, and this guy just broke the glass on pandora’s arson box.”
Fuego explained that, by allowing his home to burn down the way it did, Santos was endangering the town.
“I’m a professional, so I know exactly what I’m doing,” he said. “If this guy’s reckless homeownership inspires copycats, we could be in all sorts of trouble — which is why, after much thinking, I decided to take him to court.”
Though presiding Judge Wilson Albright has sworn to maintain his objectivity during the proceedings, he’s been candid about the difficulty he faces.
“I’ve been a Falls boy all my life, and there’s little more dear to my heart than the end of a good Preheat,” Judge Albright said. “It’s going to be hard to rule against someone as important to the town as Mr. Fuego, but that depends on Mr. Santos’ arguments.”
“I just wanted to warm my house,” was all Santos had to say in his defense — a statement that’s all but an admission of guilt in the Falls.
“Hopefully we can put this all behind us soon,” Fuego said. “The last thing I need is any competition.”