It was a regular Friday afternoon — August 25, 2017, to be exact. My family had enjoyed a great summer together and was returning to a more scheduled routine with the kids back in school (my daughter, away in college and my son, in his senior year in high school). Every Friday afternoon, my husband treats himself to a tennis workout, so he was there.
I was home alone with our two dogs. I sat at my desk, working on the sequel to Pennies from Burger Heaven when our smoke alarm rang out at 4 p.m. I walked through my house and saw …
No smoke. No fire. No burning smell.
It was bizarre. I stood staring like a fool as the hallway alarm screamed. What could possibly be wrong?
I phoned my husband. “Should I call 911?”
“I guess so,” he said.
I didn’t. I thought the batteries had a short in them.
The Heroes of Our Story
I walked into our den where Nick, the laziest pug in the world, is usually sound asleep on the couch.
Instead, he stood frozen in the den, his back arched and his eyes fixed toward our kitchen and backyard.
“What’s wrong, Nick?” I asked.
He ignored me.
“Let’s go check on Gypsy.”
We walked through the kitchen, then on outside. Our yellow Labrador retriever was running laps around the backyard. She’s always hyper, so I didn’t think much about it. “What’s wrong, Gypsy?”
She raced faster, so I stepped further onto the grass and turned to our house. That’s when I saw it.
Smoke rising off our roof like a hazy mist.
I whipped out my phone and called 911. It’d been THREE MINUTES since the smoke alarm first went off.
I gathered the dogs, while I gave the 911 dispatcher my home address and other information, but I still didn’t see any fire inside, or smell smoke.
The first thing I grabbed was my laptop (Hello? Writer here!). As I hurried back through the kitchen with the dogs, a flame shot out from the exhaust fan built into our ceiling.
I jumped. This nightmare just got real.
At some point, I texted my husband to get home ASAP. Next, I dug out our fireproof safe from its hiding spot. No, I didn’t leave it there to verify if it really works because it holds our birth certificates, social security cards, passports and wills.
I was still on the 911 call when my doorbell rang and a police officer stood on my porch. The dogs rushed out (of course, I forgot leashes). I left, too, not knowing I was leaving our home forever. Firetrucks came from both directions.
Nick the pug stayed glued beside me, while Gypsy ran around greeting everyone. I had to keep whistling for her to come back.
A Special Kind of Hell
Two police cars blocked off either end of my street. A total of five firetrucks came and they moved in full force. Now, when I hear any kind of siren, my gut clenches because I know that someone has had their life turned upside down.
As I stood by our big elm tree out front, I tried to tell myself it wasn’t that bad. There weren’t any flames. Just smoke. I remembered so many items I wished I had grabbed from inside: my purse, our photographs, our four Christmas stockings that my mother and I needlepointed for my family.
My seventeen-year-old son came galloping up to me from the police barricade. He’s a giant man-child at 6′ 4″, but his eyes were shiny scared that afternoon. I’m sure they mirrored mine. He took our Lab to a friend’s house to get her out of the way. Nick the pug wouldn’t leave my side.
My husband arrived. Together, we watched our house smolder. The fire marshals said the fire started in the attic with that kitchen exhaust fan, which had been running (where I saw the tiny flame). They contained the fire to the attic and extinguished it in no time, but the smoke and water damage were severe. Blackmon Mooring swooped in to stop the destruction.
An Inhabitable House
Once we were allowed back inside, our eyes burned from all the smoke. My husband, son and I had to pack our bags to leave ASAP. Our insurance offered to put us up at some long-term motel on the interstate, but fortunately, my in-laws have a beautiful cabin 20 minutes outside of town. We moved there, while Blackmon Mooring removed every single item from the house to send to a smoke restoration center out of town: our clothes, our furniture, everything that makes a house a home.
Over the next few weeks, they tore out the ceiling in each room of our 3,000 square foot house. They pulled up the flooring in three rooms. They ripped my kitchen down to the studs. It physically hurt to see the systematic destruction of our lives.
Plus, I felt so displaced, so vulnerable, so lost. I didn’t post about the fire on social media because I couldn’t talk about it without crying. I needed time to process. I needed time to grieve. This part is so much more traumatic than the fire itself.
A Wonderful Escape
We watch gorgeous sunsets every night and often wake up to deer in our front yard. It’s GORGEOUS. My husband and I have learned we enjoy the slower pace of country living. It’s been a healing oasis since my family already loves this cabin, and has spent a great deal of time here over the years.
No Place like
It’s a long story, but it’s now looking like we may never move back into that house again. Professionals have said that even if we add our money to what insurance gives us (and we’re still haggling there), it’s doubtful that we’d recoup our investment later.
It’d be smarter to either tear down our house and rebuild a new one, or move elsewhere. We’ll be empty nesters with both kids gone to college this time next year, so we don’t need a BIGGER house. We’d rather downsize. We could sell the lot and move somewhere else. We could move to a whole new city! There are so many unknowns it’s overwhelming.
It’s weird to think that after 17 years, I’ll never spend another night in my home.
Despite all the stress we’re facing these days, my husband and I are doing better than ever. Make no mistake, I’d give anything to go home and to make Mickey Mouse waffles for my family in MY kitchen.
That’s never going to happen. Still, this fire has our full attention. We’re trying to see it as a blessing in disguise and to really ponder, WHAT’S NEXT for us as a couple. As dislocated as I feel, I’m also more deeply connected to my faith because I’m spending so much time in prayer these days.
There are also so many small moments that I’m both noticing and appreciating on a whole new level: the sunflowers in my front yard, a text from a friend checking on me, a cup of hot tea with my husband. Before, I was just so BIZZZZZZZY to observe much of anything.
The fire has also made my writing COME ALIVE. The next Copper Daniels novel WILL be published in 2018. It feels wonderful to do something from my old life, something that makes me feel like ME.
An Attitude of Gratitude
Every day, I have a choice. We all do. We can wallow in negativity, or try to find the positive in our current circumstances. No matter how small. Yes, I’m still grieving the loss of my house. Yes, I’m still angry sometimes that this happened at all, but I make a concerted effort to keep finding my way back to gratitude.
1. I’m grateful the fire happened at 4 p.m. and not 4 a.m.
2. I’m grateful it was me home alone, and not one of my teenagers (it would’ve traumatized them).
3. I’m grateful that ANYONE was home, or we would have lost everything.
4. I’m grateful for family and friends who’ve wrapped us in their love.
5. I’m grateful for my father-in-law who’s letting us stay in his amazing cabin.
6. I’m grateful to my mom who lets me call and whine about all this 24/7.
7. I’m grateful we watch amazing sunsets every night and wake up to deer in our yard.
8. I’m grateful for the slower pace of living out in the country.
9. I’m grateful for the small moments I’m noticing so much more now.
10. I’m grateful for my husband’s strength and ability to make me laugh. No. Matter. What.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress of our house. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for my family, but I look forward to how this story unfolds.
What advice do you have for me in dealing with this fire?
Please leave comment. Let’s talk.
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