Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Fire

Saturday morning, December 5th started out like many other mornings around our house. Sam was in Montana working at an ATF event. The kids and I got up around 7 and read some books in the living room in front of the fire. I had stoked it up first thing and it was pleasantly warm.
We had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and then I wandered through the garage/attic/bedrooms to find all of the kid's winter gear. It was one of the first cold mornings we've had in a while and we were going to the Christmas parade, so I wanted everyone bundled up in their hats/gloves/scarves and winter coats (which took a while to gather together!).
Finally got everyone bundled up, made four travel mugs of hot apple cider and we headed off to the parade. We had a lot of fun at the parade and enjoyed being bundled up in the crisp, cool morning watching our small town parade.
After it was over, I debated heading into town to run errands, but decided against it so the kids could have a more relaxed day playing around the house. So we headed straight home.
Once home, I threw some fresh logs on the fire, read another story to the kids and we decided to get the house picked up before having some free time. I headed to the kitchen and sent the boys out to the garage to pick up the shoes/coats area. Henry came right back in to ask my help in finding a funny smell out in the garage, so I went out with him to see if I could figure it out.
In the garage there was indeed a funny smell. Henry thought it was Elmer (our dog, who likes to roll in stinky things!) or maybe one of the cats had gone potty on something. I could tell right away that it wasn't animal-related but really didn't recognize it. We spent a few minutes looking around and really didn't see anything that could be causing it. I even pulled the ping-pong table out to see if anything was amiss behind it.
I walked entirely around the house and didn't see anything odd, so I decided that perhaps the neighbors were burning something funny and I would go on about my day. Because I was already outside I went ahead and walked down to the chicken coop. I filled up their food and went in to collect eggs. When I was walking back up to the house with my handful of eggs I happened to look up at the roof. There was a great deal of smoke and a few small flames licking out of the chimney. It was a bit windy, so the flames kept getting blown out and re-lighting.
I yelled at the boys to go run to the front yard and then ran inside the house to call 911. They quickly verified my address and told me to get everyone out of the house. Bridget was nowhere in sight, so I screamed her name and ran up to check the playroom. She was happily playing up there and started asking, "What, mama, what?" as I grabbed her and ran down the stairs. I took the time to find her little stuffed dog Rufus in the living room, then went outside. I hollered at the boys to grab a pair of shoes and a coat, put all three kids in the car and drove it out to the end of the driveway. Then I finally called Sam. He answered right away, and I told him that we had a chimney fire and asked, "What should I do?" He said, "Go close the damper on the fireplace, then goto the side of the house and get the hose out and see if it'll reach the roof. I'll call the neighbors and send some help over to you."

I went and pulled the hose off the hanger and turned on the water, but nothing came out as the hose was completely frozen. I was able to knock out a long tube of ice and that was all. I walked to the back of the house where I could see the chimney area and by then there was a LOT of smoke coming out of the chimney and it had spread to the other vent fans on the roof. There were three lined up near the peak of the roof and smoke was pouring out of each one.
I ran back to the front of the house and could hear the sirens getting closer. At that point I realized that they may not know where to turn as we live on a spur and the house numbers are NOT in order (the house number that is one up from ours is over half a mile away and there are at least 20 houses in between us!). So I jumped in the car, dialed 911 again so I could explain the situation and raced to the end of the street. I had to verify my address and the emergency again (since I was now calling from my cell phone) and by then I was at the end of the street where my turn is and could see the fire trucks coming, so I hung up, hopped out into the middle of the street and flagged down the fire trucks, telling them where our house is.

Following the trucks down my road was a little surreal. They stopped at the gate and tried (unsuccessfully) to get through without bumping the posts on either side. Once inside our property they jumped out to assess this situation and got right to work.

My memory is a little blurry after all that. Everything seemed to be in slow motion as the firefighters unrolled hoses, asked me questions, got the ladder truck set up to my roof and began pulling out chainsaws and axes. Neighbors and family and friends poured into our yard, as well as MANY more fire trucks. I was told that at one point there were nine in all.
Early on, our older neighbor kids came over to see if they could do anything and I asked if they would take my kids for a little bit. They took Henry, Jonah and Bridget to their house, where their mom fed them lunch, let them watch part of a movie and prayed with them about what was going on next door. After a while they had to leave the house, so that neighbor arranged with another neighbor to watch the kids at her house. They remained there until everything was over and I picked them up to go eat dinner.
The smoke coming out of the chimney gradually changed to smoke coming out of every vent and crack in the house. It looked like smoke was pouring out of the gutters. I've never seen anything like it. That was the point I thought we may just lose the house, and the fire chief told me much later that he thought the same thing.
We have three attic accesses in our house (two walk-in and one drop-down from the ceiling). The fire was mostly contained to one of those access points, but the firefighters had trouble finding it. The door to get in is in a bathroom, and my understanding is that they thought it was a closet or something else. So for a while during the event, they thought they had the fire contained, but they hadn't even found the problem area yet! I'm told that when they did finally access that one, they opened the door and flames came roaring over their heads. I'm so incredibly thankful that no firefighters were hurt in taking care of this fire!!!
Once it was all over and they had put out any remaining hot spots, the fire chief walked me through the house. He tried to prepare me for what it was going to look like, but I was definitely surprised! He took me in the front door and the first thing I noticed was the water. It was up over my shoes and it was everywhere. We walked toward the stairway and I got a glimpse of the holes that they had cut in the roof. Sunshine was peeking right into my living room through the ceiling. What surprised me the most, though, was that the firefighters had taken the time to put tarps across our furniture! Most of the couches were covered and the tvs and beds all had tarps over them. I had no idea they would do something like that. One couch didn't get covered and a fireman pulled me aside to apologize for it. He said that they were working on tarping everything when the fire came through and they had to leave it. I was so impressed that they would do that and couldn't believe that he would actually apologize for getting something wet.
As far as fire damage goes, that one attic access and the bathroom sustained the majority of the damage. Water damage is another story, however. Because pipes melted and our house water wasn't immediately shut off, we had more water damage from our own water than from the fire fighter's hoses! Isn't that crazy? Anyway, the water ruined all the carpet in the house and lots and lots of drywall. The restoration company showed up that same night to start pulling wet carpet out and let the house dry. Our master bedroom is right below where the fire damage was and it sustained the worst of the water damage. Our entire ceiling fell in due to the weight of the water.
So now we are in the process of meeting with insurance adjustors and talks with the restoration company. The restoration company takes everything out of our house and has it cleaned and then they store it until the house is rebuilt. It's weird to watch them pack up the stuff that makes up our lives. We tried to take some things with us (mostly clothes/books/etc..) but everything smelled too smoky to keep, so it mostly all went back to the house to be professionally cleaned.
Our builder has said he could probably get the house fixed and restored in six to eight weeks, once he gets the go-ahead to start. The only thing holding that up will be the investigation. Because there may have been fault with the installation of our wood-burning insert, there are a number of interested parties. The investigation into cause/origin has to wait until all of the interested parties can be present at one time. So as of right now, we don't know the official cause of the fire and it could be a while until we find out. Please be praying that this process moves quickly so we can be back in our own home. :)
God is so good. We really could see his hand in guiding us to safety in so many ways....not the least of which is the weird smell in the garage that led to us finding the fire in a timely manner. We keep coats and shoes and a number of other things in the garage and not a single one of them has any trace of smoke smell on it. There really never should have been any odor in there in the first place.
Anyway, thankfully we are all safe and sound. God is GOOD! :)


Anonymous said...

Constantly thinking of you and so thankful for those who love you and have taken care of you.

Praying for a quick solution to get you back in your house.

Leslie said...

Wow...that is amazing!! God IS good and I am so thankful he truly is going to work it out for your good. I am so thankful you all were safe!!! Blessings, and please let me know if you need ANYTHING!!!

Andrea said...

I'm glad you guys were safe! I hope everything moves quickly and you will be back in your home soon!

Good thing you didn't go into town!

Let me know if you need anything

Just Mom said...

Believe it or not, I do know the kind of damage that can be caused after a house fire. I've covered many of them during my tenure as a reporter and have seen what it does -- to both families and their material possessions.

I am so grateful you all were unharmed and that you have wonderful caring neighbors.

By the way, your volunteer fire department sounds as awesome as our volunteer department here.

Jamin said...

Oh my goodness, I heard about the fire from a couple people. Glad you and the fam are doing good!


Journey said...

Will be praying for the investigation pieces to all come together quickly and by God's hand, so that the rebuilding can begin.

Shanygne said...

Wow.... my stomach was in knots just reading your story and I KNEW that you were okay! I had tears in my eyes as I read about trying to find Bridget... PLEASE let me know if there is anything we can do to help.. now or later. We love you guys! Praying for quick resolution...