May 20, 2012


Sunday morning began approximately one hour after Saturday ended.  It started with Holly rousing me from sleep and shouting, "Wake up!  The house is on fire!  We need to get out of here!"


When my brain finally caught up with my feet, six fire engines were on the street in front of my parents' house.  Half a dozen firefighters in full gear were running to the scene.  A huge hose was spraying water at the garage.  Dad stood next to me, running his hands through his hair, staring bleakly at the home where he had raised his family for the last 21 years.

The street was full of fire trucks.

Dad told the firefighters what started the fire.
The entire scene was surreal.  It was 1:00 a.m.  My parents and brother and sister and I were in our pajamas, standing on the street in bare feet, watching the firefighters do their work.  We watched as they walked into the house with pick-axes.  We stared as the ceiling of the garage fell in a shower of sheet rock, foam, and plaster.  We couldn't believe that the house was actually on fire.

As we stood on the neighbor's lawn, details of the fire began to emerge.  Around 12:30 a.m., Ryan and Holly were watching TV in the family room downstairs.  Dad and I had gone to bed around 11:00 p.m.  My mom retired shortly after midnight.  We were all especially tired that night, having spent the day preparing for and hosting a wedding reception in the backyard.  It was a glorious event (post to come), but needless to say, we'd all earned some sleep that night.  Mom, however, was restless.  Eventually she got out of bed, set on taking some Tylenol to soothe her aching feet and legs.  That's when she smelled something burning.

She went upstairs to investigate and found smoke in two of the rooms and hallway.  She quickly went back downstairs and woke Dad.  They ran back up together and found smoke pouring out of an outlet in Holly's room, which is just above the garage.  Dad immediately knew that the fire was in the attic.  While Mom called 911, Dad ran into the garage and discharged two fire extinguishers into the attic entrance.  As Mom walked out the front door, Ryan (23) and Holly (18) went outside with her.  Just as Dad emerged, they all noticed flames coming from the top of the garage door.  Ryan and Dad used a hose to douse those flames.  Holly ran back inside, this time through smoke, to pull me out of bed.  I had the presence of mind to grab my purse.

Then the fire engines came--all six of them.  They quickly got to work, and though it seemed to us that the fire was out immediately, they worked for some time before declaring the fire contained.  Meanwhile, we walked to the nearest neighbor's house, where a group of concerned neighbors was congregated.  A firefighter treated Holly for smoke inhalation.  Eric (another brother) showed up to help and support.  Neighbors offered jackets and shoes.  Eventually one firefighter went into the house and retrieved our cell phones and flip flops.

Several firefighters were inside, too.

Holly received an oxygen treatment on the neighbor's lawn.

Mom and Dad talking to a firefighter about the damage.

The last fire truck on the scene.

When things calmed down, the firemen took off their gear.

Eventually a firefighter briefed Mom and Dad on the damage.  The fire had started with an outdoor light fixture above the garage.  It had apparently been smoldering for some time.  The firefighter said that Dad's quick action with the fire extinguishers saved the house from burning to the ground.  Five more minutes and the roof would have been aflame, and little could have been done to save it.  As it was, Holly's bedroom, as well as the attic and garage below, sustained structural damage.  The entire house was full of acrid smoke.  The firefighters had cut the power immediately upon arrival, and a man from the city's electrical company had also come and removed the electricity meter from the house.  The home was declared uninhabitable.

The garage was full of foam and water and lots of damaged property.

Another view of the garage.

Foam dripping from the burned eaves above the garage door.

Collecting belongings from the house.

Around 3:00 a.m., the firefighters left.  Dad, Mom, Holly, Ryan, Eric, and I went inside to collect a few belongings, none of which were damaged, aside from the terrible smoky smell that permeated everything.  We picked up computers and cameras and toiletries and shoes and some clothes to wear to church later on.  We had many offers for places to stay, but we ended up at the bishop's house down the street.  I was the first to go to sleep for what was left of the night (around 3:30), but the rest were awake for at least another hour, just processing the experience and working out details.

Before I woke up at 8:00 a.m., a neighbor had picked up our church clothes (including slips, socks, and underwear) and taken them home to wash.  They were ready in time for us to attend church at 11:00 a.m.  Eric and another neighbor were washing enough clothing to get us through the week.  So many neighbors offered food and beds and helping hands.  It was really quite touching.  And people at church offered more of the same.

We spent some time in the house picking up a few more things--sunglasses, prescriptions, cell phone charging cables, and other random things--and also watered plants and the grass, since the sprinkler system was no longer functional.  I took the opportunity to snap a few photos, too.

The charred eaves.

A view of the garage and the damaged eaves.

One of the fire extinguishers Dad used in the attic.

Some of the damage in Holly's room.

More of Holly's room.


A view of the garage ceiling from below.

The Sunday paper still showed up.

This must have been the time that the firemen cut the electricity.

A fine layer of smoke dust covers everything in the house.
This afternoon Dad called the insurance company and started making a plan for damage assessment and repair.  Mom and Dad have good insurance and eventually things with the house will be restored.  However, we have all been deeply grateful for a loving God who was watching over things far more important than a physical home.  We are so grateful for the guardian angels who kept Mom awake, and for the ones who directed Dad to spray in the attic.  We are thankful we all escaped the house without injury.  We are thankful for the firefighters who responded so quickly, worked so ably, and attended to our needs so compassionately.  I am so grateful that my children are safe and sound in Colorado and were spared the trauma of this experience.  And of course we are thankful to the charitable souls around us who have pledged unlimited service at this time of crisis.

In a few days I will return to Colorado.  I'm sad I won't be here to help clean up the aftermath.  But I'm so glad to know that my family has each other, no matter the physical distance that separates us.  That's all that really matters.

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