Fight, Flight and Fire

I want to apologize for the lack of posts over the past week or so. We had a small fire at our house and have been dealing with that. Nobody was hurt and the fire was contained to our garage, but the smoke damage has been an eye opening experience.

I had gotten home from work at about 6:00pm and nobody else was home. My wife had taken one of our sons to spend the night at my mother-in-law’s house and was about to head home with our other son. I spoke with her on the phone about dinner plans and she agreed to pick up food on her way back.

I tossed the Ramen packet that I was planning to make before talking to my wife back in the cupboard and started walking down the hall toward the bathroom. As I reached the middle of the hall, the lights flickered and then a second later, they went out.

Electrical fire

Now, we have had electrical problems in this house before. We lost power to part of one circuit once and it wasn’t until I climbed into the attic that I found a junction box where a single wire had slipped out of a wire nut. I tightened all of the wires together in the wire nut and we were back in business. That issue had nothing to do with our recent fire, I might add.

We also lived in a house that we considered to be big and there had been numerous upgrades before we ever came to reside there. Previous owners who added electrical devices and just tied it into an existing breaker. This resulting in having breakers that were overloaded and were constantly tripping.

Smoke, damage, fire

Now, all I noticed was that the lights in the hallway went out. I wasn’t in a position to realIze the power in the entire house had actually gone out. So, thinking I had another tripped breaker, I let out a sigh of frustration and turned around, heading toward the the stairs. The breaker panel was in the garage of our split level house so I had to head downstairs to fix it. When I got to the staircase, there was smoke coming up from downstairs.

I’ve been building, remodeling, and fixing house for decades. I have seen my fair share of housing disasters. I’ve seen flooding, sinking foundations, cars driven into structures, I’ve even experienced multiple small fires. I’ve had no problem charging into the area and getting the place secured from whatever damaging element existed.

This was different. The smoke that was billowing up the stairs was substantial. It was thick. It was black. It smelled toxic. This was not a little grease fire on a stove or a piece of paper too close to a hot lamp. No, this was clearly something that was already outside of my control. I’m the type of person who’s fight or flight response has always weighed heavily toward the fight side. There was no choice here though. No reason to try to fight what was clearly a war I would not win. I had to choose flight.

In that split second I walked through the kitchen toward the back door. The sliding glass door was open. When I get home and nobody else is there, the first thing I do is let the dog out. We have a fenced yard so I just open it up and let him run out to do his business. He was currently in the house but he followed me out and I closed the door behind me so he couldn’t run back in.

I had my cell phone in my pocket so I called 911. The dispatcher took the information and dispatched the fire department. I live on a major road and the smoke was pouring out of the busted out windows of the garage. I was mid 911 call when cars passing by started slowing down, yelling questions toward me.

“Is everyone out?”

“Has anyone called 911?”

“Do you have a hose we can use?”

Let me explain something to everyone out there. I am glad that there are people out in the world who want to be helpful in a time of need, but please stop and think before you decide to be “helpful”. You shouting questions to me while I’m trying to talk to 911, isn’t helpful. You stopping in the road, blocking traffic, isn’t helpful. One couple pulled their car over, right across my driveway and started getting out of their car. I had to yell at them to get back in their car and move. I hate to seem ungrateful of another person’s help, but could they not foresee that maybe the FIRE DEPARTMENT might want to park right in front of my house? Why would you pull you car up, right across the driveway of a house on fire and completely block the way for firefighters? I was outside, I had called 911, nobody was screaming for help. If I can give everyone some advice: if you see a house on fire, keep your distance and let the professionals do their job. 

Fire department, firefighter, fire

I digress. The fire department did a fantastic job. They got the fire out. The Fire Marshall deemed it an electrical fire. The fire itself was contained to the left half of the garage. We didn’t have any of our property damaged by actual fire. There were a few tools that I had over there and some building supplies, but the fire didn’t get much. The smoke, well now that’s a different story.

You would not believe how much damage smoke can do. It’s something you see float through the air like a cloud. You can put your hand right through it. It’s not a physical thing with weight and mass. This black ghost just crept through our house and took over everything. The fire was directly under my wife and my bedroom so that got the biggest dose of smoke. We have washed clothing and bedding and that seems to have worked, but what about our mattress? How do you get smoke out of that? I can’t help but think of our mattress as a lung and the smoke as air pollution. It’s just been absorbed into every crevice of that mattress and no matter how hard we work to clean it, the smoke will always be there.

Fire, house fire, smoke damage

It’s been an eye opening experience to see with my own eyes the effect that pollution (smoke) can have on an environment (my house) in such a small amount of time. It couldn’t have been more than 40 minutes from the time I saw the smoke until the time the fire was extinguished and the smoke completely overtook my home. We can’t stay there because the fire damaged the electrical system and some plumbing so there is no power and no running water. We went back a few days later and it was like walking into a room that was built over a campfire.

Now I drive my car and wonder what that exhaust is soaking into. I see factories pumping exhaust into the sky and wonder what that is going to envelope forever. I was an environmentally conscious person before but being so up close and personal with this pollution that’s affecting my home and my family. It definitely has been an eye opening experience.

Fire, house fire, smoke damage

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