It all began when a group of old friends decided they wanted to go camping for the weekend. All they wanted was to have a laugh, get drunk and have good last memories of their time together before they went to university in different parts of the country. Camping seemed like a perfect way to say goodbye, or so they thought. Sitting around a warm campfire, toasting marshmellows and sharing memories, they would remember the good times and leave on a good note, the troubles of the past forgotten.
Jack and Mike decided to organise a weekend in the New Forest and collected a i??30 contribution from their friends to pay for food, drink, fuel and the hire of a minibus. So it was that, one crisp morning in late August, the group of friends met at The Three Compasses in Luton and set off, talking and laughing, for their perfect weekend away. The journey took a few hours due to the volume of traffic on the roads and by the time they reached base camp they were hot, tired and irritable.
Determined not to let the weekend get off to a bad start, Jack suggested that they set up camp in the woods then go their separate ways before the barbeque later in the evening. Jack led the group from the carpark to a clearing about half a mile into the dense trees and they began to set up the large ten-man tents. After agreeing to meet back at seven, they split into twos and threes and went off to explore the forest. Everyone was back by half past and got a fire going, crackling merrily as they toasted marshmellows.
As the drink was brought out the talking and laughing grew louder and more raucous until most were either asleep or dancing outrageously to Mike’s CD collection. The fire flickered, its embers glowing and cinders scattering about the clearing. The deep shadows between the trees were broken by its golden light and different hues of yellow danced across the canvas tents. A wonderful aroma of sweet pinewood burning filled the clearing, mingling with the pungent perfume of wild grasses and flowers. The stars overhead were glittering like diamonds in the velvety night sky.
Jack was dancing near to the fire but he was one of the last ones, everyone else had gone into the tents to sleep off the vodka and beer. As his friends decided that they too were ready for bed, Jack went to put out the fire with a bottle of water. In his disorientated state he accidentally picked up a half-drunk bottle of vodka and threw its contents onto the fire. There was a roar and the flames sprang up, licking the night air like a predator hungry for prey. Tongues of flame caught low-hanging branches and they were swallowed up, the pine resin spitting and jumping.
Jerked out of his drunkeness, Jack ran to the tents and shouted for everyone to get out and follow him. The ones who listened ran outside, dragging their semi-conscious friends with them. Crashing through the dense undergrowth they headed in the direction of the minibus and clambered aboard. Mike, who had stayed sober enough to drive, sprang into the drivers seat and they sped off down the road. At a nearby laybay they stopped and called the fire brigade from a phonebox. It was only then that they realised several of their friends behind at the mercy of the raging flames.
The forest was alight, the trees catching like dry tinder and pillars of orange flame rocketing into the night sky, the pines burning like torches. The people left behind ran drunkenly away from the flames but the fire was spreading at an incredible rate, springing from tree to tree like rampaging tigers. Smoke filled the forest and they choked as they ran, stumbling and falling. Overcome by tiredness and lack of oxygen, they sank down in a clearing by a road, hoping the fire could be stopped before it was too late…