Why did Paul's mother call the fire department?  

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Paul’s mom decides to call the fire department after Paul notices the air’s gray tint and foul smell when he steps outside in the morning. Paul’s mom is skeptical at first, but becomes alarmed once she also steps outside. To both family members, the smoke and foul smell are incredibly alarming! Both know that there’s a fire somewhere, but they can’t locate the source of the smoke and foul smell. They look up to check if their house is actually on fire, but they don’t see any flames.

As soon as Paul suggests that the source could be smoldering electrical wire within their house, Paul’s mom quickly dials the fire department.

It turns out that the smoke and bad smell come from a muck fire. Muck fires are common occurences in Florida. They burn underground after lightning strikes buried decomposing vegetation. Since Paul mentions being woken up by lightning strikes the night before, the cause of the muck fire is apparent. For most long-time inhabitants of Florida, a muck fire wouldnt cause any worry; however, because Paul and his mom are new to Tangerine, they understandably panicked.

Their lack of knowledge of Tangerine’s strange natural occurences and disasters is a constant theme throughout the book, as lightning strikes, muck fires, and sink holes continue to make Paul’s already abnormal life even more difficult.

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