Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Fire

Saturday night was as ordinary as they come. The boy was spending the weekend with his grandparents. We went out for a bit of retail therapy and crashed in front of the TV. Around midnight we woke up long enough to go to bed. It ain't exciting, but it's our life. Or at least it was.

At 12:47am I awoke to a horrible incessant noise. It was a very loud 60-cycle hum, like the sound of a florescent fixture with bad ballast. I went out into the hall to see just what the hell had the audacity to wake me up, and my ears led me to the thermostat, which I immediately noticed was not on (it's digital). At that point I figured the heat had failed, so I turned on some lights to make my way to the breaker box.

And that's when I noticed the dining room was full of smoke. Oh. Shit.

Not ready to declare that anything worse than a bad heater was at fault, I made my way through to the den, which was somehow even smokier, to the breaker box. Sadly, whoever wired the breaker box had nothing smaller than a Sharpie to mark the breakers, and evidently couldn't be bothered to label more than 5 or 6 of them. I flipped a few, including the one vaguely legible "heat" breaker.

Nothing improved. I ran out the closest door to see if flames were leaping out of the roof, but they weren't. I came back in through the kitchen, into the foyer, and saw Katelyn coming out of the bedroom as I was heading out the front door to see if the front of the house was on fire. It also wasn't.

She started yelling that the smoke was coming out of the fridge, which we'd suspected of being near death for weeks. Ah! That must be it! Pulling it out revealed huge amounts of smoke billowing out of the back, so we yanked the cord and I congratulated myself for saving the house.

Then she pointed out that smoke was pouring out of the oven. I ran back to the breaker box and flipped a few more of 'em, but nothing was getting better, and the kitchen had become unbreathable. We opened windows to survive and to buy ourselves a few minutes to get the pets out, Katelyn called 911, and we evacuated the pets.

Once the pets were out, I went back to the dining room and pulled our sideboard away from the wall, whereupon I could see fire through the cracks in the floorboards. I grabbed a pot from the kitchen and started pouring water onto the floor. A little got through to the fire, but it was evident it was time to retreat. When I went to step away, I realized my slipper had begun to melt onto the floor.

Katelyn was on the phone with the 911 operator, securing the pets in the garage. I was trying to move a hose from the side of the house to the front, where there's a tap directly under the dining room window. The hose refused to engage the threads on the tap, and when I finally got it attached and opened the tap, hot water came out. It was clear the pipes were routed right through the fire. I called off my efforts to save the house and waited for the sirens.

When the fire department came, they came in force. At first we got 3 trucks, but over the next 45 minutes that number swelled to somewhere between 10 and 12. We had a legitimate 3-alarm fire, but never once did flames actually enter the living space of the house. It appears to have begun as an electrical fire in the crawlspace, but had entered the wall between the dining room and kitchen by the time the firefighters got to it.

The firemen will have my absolute unquestioning respect forever. Every single action they took was explained to us in detail PRIOR to it happening. They apologized in advance for everything they had to do, ensured that we understood what was happening was strategic, and kept us sane throughout. The fire marshal walked us through the house when they were done, and even went so far as to get our electric company to dog-leg power from the house to the garage so we'd have a warm place to sleep on our own property.

They helped us collect our essentials and even offered to run into town for any supplies we would need. They were AMAZING. Not at all the faceless drones who chop your house to pieces and leave a rubbly mess.

Everything was over at 4:15am, and we tried our hardest to get a little sleep.

In the light of the morning, we took our own walk-through. The wall between the kitchen and dining room is functionally gone. Fire had entered 2 sections of the wall, but because of modern construction practices (capped walls), the fire did not enter Alastair's bedroom, which was directly upstairs. Because of where it began, the firemen could not get directly to it through the crawlspace, so they had to chainsaw our floors and put it out from above. At least one floor joist is completely bisected by fire, and the floors in at least the kitchen and dining rooms (and likely the foyer because now it's wiggly) will be written off. There's ash and soot on everything, and the house smells dreadful.

All the registers in the main heating zone have black soot on them, so the heating will need to be replaced. Emergency vendors are working this week to winterize the pipes and prevent further damage. A textiles cleaner came today to collect all fabrics in the house for cleaning, and an electronics company en route to take...well...the electronics.

We're living in a hotel for the moment, but trying to get to another one that will let us have the pup, with the goal of being in a temporary rental house within a week or two. At that point all of our emergency cleaning (clothes, electronics, etc) will be delivered back to us, and we'll have a semi-permanent home for the next 3 to 4 months while our house is rebuilt.

All the wiring will be replaced. Every wall will need to be tested to see if it needs to be replaced. Every wall will be repainted (we get to pick the colors, so...huzzah?). Structural renovations will be necessary to support the kitchen, and all the kitchen appliances except the stove and dishwasher will be replaced. While there is no clear visible damage to the exterior, I watched black smoke pour out of the crawlspace door for 3 hours, so I have a feeling the exterior of the house will get a good cleaning, too. Insulation under the house will be replaced. At least one of the 3 heating zones in the house will likely be replaced in total, and the other two were breathing in the smoke, so they may be damaged, too.

So far everyone we've dealt with has been incredible, and even our blustery snow day has worked out to be an opportunity for me to spend time with Alastair. Incidentally, the kid is taking it REALLY well. He cried when we told him, but we immediately took him to the house and showed him exactly what had happened, and since his birthday plans were all necessarily ruined, we went ahead and gave him his go-kart a couple days early.

We are extremely fortunate to be alive, to have our pets still with us, to have a place on the property where we were able to stay, that is still viable if we need to be on the site during repairs, and above all, we were incredibly fortunate that Alastair was not home and that we still do have a house. These next few months will be a rough ride, but we will be able to face it together, and I know in my heart that will be enough.


Evelyn Louise said...

Well said, friend! I, of course, read you and Katelyn's FB posts backwards... so I knew everyone was okay before I knew what had happened.

So, so glad that everyone is okay. Let me know if you need our assistance in any way. I could even cook you a meal. And I might agree with you that gophers may be after you.

Oh, and my linky-loo on the right side of your page is terribly outdated. I'm at www.evieloucronin.com now.

hipppychick said...

Just texted you and wanted to reiterate here how happy I am that all of you are safe. If there's anything at all, no matter how little, I can do to help please let me know. The critters always have a crash pad at my place! Love you guys bunches. You're guardian angel is always with you! m