House fire, a wake up call?

In 2001, we lost our home to an electrical fire. This was one of the most traumatizing events for our family.  For me personally, I was devastated to see my children’s belongings lost to  fire and smoke damage. I had many sleepless nights afterwards realizing how bad this could have been had we all been asleep when the fire broke out and reminding myself to be thankful we were safe.

The timing of our fire was uncanny. It was a day of great highs and low lows. That morning I had received a call that we were approved for purchasing a new house. I wouldn’t be able to move into the house for another 60 days. Those 60 days were supposed to be spent  preparing for, and selling our existing home.  I was on the phone making arrangements, while also listing the things I wanted to complete to show our current home to potential buyers when we began to smell smoke.

First the frustration sets in

I still believe things might not have been so bad had we lived in another area, or people from our town not been so nosy. Now what do I mean by that you may ask.  We lived just outside of town in an area that didn’t have fire hydrants, so the fire department had to bring a tanker of water to fight the fire. The first trucks arrived, but had no water, we stood around wondering where the tanker was. We found it stuck in traffic.

Many people in our area have scanners, when the call went out many of them heard the call and decided to get in their cars and drive to watch the house that was burning. We stood angrily watching the firemen trying to get people to move  the cars and give room for the tanker to get onto our street. People refused.  Everything we had worked for was going up in smoke, while people were blocking the help we needed so they could take pictures. I kept hoping they would move so we could save the house, but soon saw flames shooting out of the roof and knew all would be gone soon.

I had just recently, and I mean days before, completed the gutting and remodeling of one of our bedrooms. I had sunk a couple thousand dollars into this remodel. And just the day before had purchased $200 worth of food to last most of the month. All was now gone.

Pressure built

While waiting for the firemen to get the fire under control, my grandfather came to see if we needed anything, yet his first question to me was to ask if I had saved a family heirloom, a picture that had been his mothers, which he had given me.  His displeasure at finding out I hadn’t thought of that when herding kids and dog out the door and  calling for help, only reinforced at that moment the responsibility of being the benefactor of these heirlooms.

Once we had the okay to enter the house, our hearts sank. Nearly everything was damaged. The newly remodeled bedroom was gutted again, this time by the fire. The food was cooked, but not edible. Food in the refrigerator was spoiled, as well.

The heirloom my grandfather was worried about was saved, although nearly lost. The heat from the fire had melted the paint right off the wall where the picture had hung, the picture was covered in smoke, yet when we cleaned it, it was luckily intact.

Pain and regret sets in

My oldest son had lost everything in his room. My youngest, who’s room was the one recently remodeled was able to salvage a few pieces of clothes in his dresser and his bed frame, an antique my great-grandmother had left me when I was young.  Most of our clothes were gone, with the exception of the things we had in the clothes dryer, which were mostly towels.

Dishes cracked from the heat, and our pots and pans were beyond saving. The television was destroyed but the movies in the cabinet were salvaged. What do you need movies for when you have nothing to play them on?  Our books were destroyed.  Not a single one was protected from the smoke and water damage.  To make matters worse our home owners insurance had been canceled, but that’s another story.

Rationalizing comes next, but lessons weren’t learned

I tried to look at this as some weird blessing in disguise.  The family we were buying the house from, offered to move sooner making our wait to get in only 30 days, and a friend put us up in her house.  We couldn’t take our dog with us, but another friend took the dog in. Most importantly, my children were unharmed. The saying people before possessions was never more true.

We now had a clean slate to begin in our new house. I should have learned more than I had from this experience. Instead of re-evaluating what we really needed, all I could think was that I wanted to relieve some of the pain for my children. To do that, I wanted to give them everything back they lost and then some, they had lost everything.  So many people came to the rescue to try to do just that.

Looking back, I don’t think I took the time to feel anything, I was numb. Being numb all I thought about had been to relieve my children’s pain, but I went about it all wrong. We never asked each other what was important from those lost items.  In our pain, everything lost had been important.

Ending up with more than we started with

My grandmother had died the year before, with her gone my grandfather cleaned out his kitchen and offered me any of her baking items and appliances. I took many thinking it would be nice to have this or that.  Most I never used and finally after lugging  and storing them I passed on to others who would use them.

Strangers showed up with towels, televisions, DVD and VHS players (yes multiples of each), clothes,  furniture,  even pictures to hang on the walls, and so much more.I ended up with two sets of kitchen table and chairs, and new mattresses for all of us.

So began the purging. We thanked everyone and began to beg for no more. Then we had to pare down to what we would use and find homes for the rest of it. And do you know what I did for me? I bought a bookcase and began to replace all the books I had loved and lost. I wasn’t ready to live in a home without an overflowing bookcase.

Our gratitude for all the assistance can never be expressed, but I hadn’t learned my lesson. I still believed those things we loved, and lost, were so important it felt as if we  had lost a member of the family.

Finally, learning what was really important

In less than ten years time, I would look around my home and wonder why I had all this stuff. I had continued to acquire things during those years after the fire, things I thought I needed. In reality, I was buying and acquiring more and more to comfort that inner child who had her toys taken away. It’s much easier to give something away than to have it taken.

One day, depressed and lost I realized I had stuff, but was missing out on so much more. It was time to examine my values, finally. It was a process, yet I found my way. Today, I have so many things I love, but few are material things.

23 thoughts on “House fire, a wake up call?

  1. OMG – what a terrifying thing to live through. Having a house fire is one of my biggest fears – the cats tend to run and hide when frightened and the thought of losing one in a fire just scares me to death. I’m so glad that nobody got hurt.

    In terms of lessons learned… it sounds to me that you did learn something pretty valuable from the whole experience – that stuff is ubiquitous! I’m musing over the idea that so much stuff came pouring in that you actually had to start turning it away. I can totally understand wanting to put things back the way they were – just to have a return to normalcy, but I’m sure that in some subconscious way this experience must have nudged you ever so slightly down the road toward simplicity.

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    • For me, I didn’t care what I accumulated for myself, it was trying to put a home back together for my children, so you are partly right, I could have just chucked it all if it had only been myself. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to find cats during a situation like that, the dog was hard enough to move, he wanted to stay put, but at least he was big enough (a lab) to find easily.

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  2. I am so glad you weathered this and learned something about yourself from it–though I would much rather you had never gone through this. Devastating–from reading your blog I know you are strong–from reading this I know you have been strong for a long time.

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  3. What a story! So glad you and your children weren’t hurt in the fire. It always amazes me how people think their agenda is more important than an ambulance or fire truck. I’m sorry you went through this.

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  4. I just found this post.
    I’m so sorry that you had such a traumatic event in your life.
    I can’t get that picture out of my head of people standing taking photos of the fire and not moving their cars to let the tanker through. And the incident with the grandfather re the heirloom.
    Although I am known as a calm, peace loving, people loving kind of girl, in this extreme situation, I think I would have taken something like a baseball bat and smashed a couple of cars to gently encourage people to move their ….cars. Please. If its not too much trouble?
    On the positive side, it was heartening to hear of the kindness and love shown to you by others in helping with accommodation and furniture and household goods.

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    • It was one of those situations where we got to see the best and worst of people at the same time. The funny thing (I know this is off subject so bear with me) was that the people who offered the most help were those with very little. Those living in the fancy big homes with all the things we think of as the American Dream were the ones who were the looky-loos and offered no assistance. You should have heard some of what the firemen had to say during the road blockages. One of my neighbors worked for the fire department and helped me to stay centered in my own reality, me and my children and our needs at the moment. I will never forget the kindness of those who offered so much yet had so little to give.

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      • Actually my immediate neighbors were great, they came out with food, shoes for my boys till I could replace them, they arrived with lumber to board the windows up and helped. It was the townspeople who heard about it on the scanners and came to watch causing all the problems for the firemen.

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          • I know and since that moment you should hear me when someone doesn’t get out of the way of a fire truck or ambulance. It’s not pretty, but I find myself worrying that someone might be hurt because of the nosiness of others, we were lucky we only lost material things.

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          • I am so very glad you and your family were not hurt. Material things are easily replaced (as you found out — even if you’re a bit ashamed of it).

            I always pull over for emergency vehicles, and I’ve never seen someone get in their way. I imagine I would get a bit ragey at them if I did!

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    • Thanks for reading our story, how stupid of me to have replaced so much of our junk. In some ways I wish I could start over if for no other reason than to set the proper example for my children in handling a disastrous situation, luckily I think they learned their own lessons from the experience.

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  5. What a story! I can’t imagine what that would feel like. I am shocked by the fire truck not being able to get to the house. I bet I would have done the exact same thing and tried to replace everything item by item, especially if I had kids at home. Now I wouldn’t, though.

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