Monday, December 13, 2004

Into the flame

I am firm believer in what our founding fathers called “Divine Providence”, or to put it in more simple terms; I believe that everything that happens, happens for a reason, that all things are directed by the hand of God. With that being said, I’ll begin my story…
It was about 7:30 on Friday night, December 13th, 2002. Jo had just come home from her sister, Michelle’s house, in spite of our nieces begging her to spend the night. I was on my way to bed because I had to be up for work at 3:00 AM. All in all, a fairly normal evening for us, for the time of year. But that was soon to change.
I did my usual bedtime routine, bathroom, teeth, shorts, TV (for a little background noise to relax me), and I was off to La-La Land. I remember putting on ABC/Family Channel because I’ve always loved those Rankin/Bass animated Christmas specials, and it was “The 25 Days of Christmas” (WOOHOO!!). “The Year Without a Santa Claus” was just about to start as I faded off to my slumber.
It wasn’t much later, about 8:30, that I was rudely awakened by my kids running through the house yelling something about “fire”.
Huh… What?
Aliesha came into the bedroom yelling “Dad! Get up! The house is on fire!”. So, I jumped out of bed and stood there confused for a moment before what she had said really sunk in. “The house is on fire!”… Yeah, that’s what she said. “I guess I’d better do something.” I thought, but who thinks clearly when you’re fast asleep and suddenly jarred awake by your kids yelling about a fire in the house. That’s when I realized that the TV was still on and Heatmiser was doing his number. How ironic! (he is too much, you know?)
Now, I have to admit that my first instinct was to check the kitchen. If you’re gonna have a fire, you’d like to think it’s coming from the place where you actually have fires, under normal circumstances, anyway. But as I headed downstairs, Jo was at the bottom of the steps telling me that the fire was on the third floor, in Aliesha’s room. I turned to go up the next set of stairs, but Jo just yelled for me to put some clothes on so we could all get outside.
I turned to go back into the bedroom and grabbed a shirt. I was pulling it over my head as I ran down the stairs. When I reached the landing, Jo reminded me that it was winter, and I would probably need something better than the shorts I had been sleeping in. So… back upstairs I went, and grabbed a pair of sweats. Once again, I ran down the stairs, only to be greeted by Jo, and Bobby, yelling “The rabbit’s still on the third floor! The rabbit’s still on the third floor!”. Guess where I went!
When I got up to the third floor I saw Bunnicula just huddled up in his cage, and the thick, black smoke that was right about waist level for me. Fortunately, for me I didn’t just run right into the smoke, because that would’ve been really bad. Instead, I decided to try crawling into my daughters room to see how bad the fire was.
I looked across the floor and saw a flame, about the size of a basketball, issuing from the far wall. I paused for a moment and thought to myself, “I bet I could smother that with one of the quilts in her room.”, so I attempted to crawl into the room.
Bad idea! As I approached the door, the heat became more and more oppressive, and the smoke was getting thicker, and hanging lower to the floor. Scratch that brainstorm off of the list! Instead I just grabbed Bunnicula’s cage and headed downstairs.
I got back down to the first floor and saw two police officers coming into the house. Talk about fast! God bless all of the people who put their own lives on the line for the rest of us everyday! They ran up the stairs past me, as I ran out the front door.
I set the rabbit cage down on the front porch, and turned to go back inside. I figured that if the police, who were pretty much strangers to me, were willing to try to save my house, I should at least go in and try to help. No sooner had I walked back in the door than one of them had come back downstairs and asked if we had a fire extinguisher. DING! A little light went on inside my head. “Kitchen!” Off I ran into the kitchen, and without thinking grabbed the fire extinguisher that was on the wall. CRUNCH! I probably should’ve unhooked the clasp that held it in it’s holder, but the whole fixture came off easily… with a little chunk of paneling, too. OOOOOPs!
I handed him the extinguisher and he headed back up the steps, but not before he told me to get outside. I tried to tell him “But it’s my house!”. He didn’t listen.
So, outside I went, and by this time the entire neighborhood had gathered around for the show. Jo had managed to call the fire department during all of my insane running up and down the steps. They arrived within minutes of my getting outside.
Meanwhile, Jo, began to fill me in on what had made her and the kids aware of the fire. Jo had heard a loud “pop” and thought that it might’ve been Bobby falling down in the shower. Aliesha, checked in on him and found out that he was fine. Shortly thereafter, she smelled something burning. She went into the kitchen, while the kids checked the upstairs. Bobby took the second floor, and Aliesha headed up to her room. That’s when she discovered the fire. That’s when the commotion began.
Now, I looked up at the third floor window, that was at the front of Aliesha’s room, and could see the flames behind the glass. Smoke had already begun to stream through the roof, and we were starting to come to the full realization that our house was REALLY on fire. Jo started to cry, not a blubbering weepy sort of crying, it was just a simple sadness sort of crying. I held firm, not wanting to add to what she must’ve already been feeling inside. I simply stood outside watching and saying Jesus’ name under my breath. I didn’t know what else I could do.
Jo had been on the phone with her mother before her and the kids discovered the fire, so she was the first person Jo called from the cell phone when we were all safely outside. After that, Jo called her sister Michelle, the one whose house she had left barely an hour and a half earlier. Then Her sister Lori called, followed shortly by her brother Michael on our call-waiting. Everybody in her family was now aware of what was happening, now it was my turn.
As I said, I wasn’t crying because I wanted to be strong for Jo and the kids, and then I called my mother. For some odd reason having to tell her that my house was on fire just tore me apart inside. We had worked hard and gone through a lot to buy our first house and now here it was, burning. The tears flowed down my face, and I just couldn’t stop them now. My mother didn’t get as upset about it as I suspected she might, instead, she simply said that she’d call her prayer chain and let them know to pray for us. Another couple of minutes on the phone and I was doing O.K. again.
Many of our neighbors approached us to comfort us and offer any assistance that they might be able to provide. One of them took Sheba and Bunnicula into their home so they wouldn’t have to stay outside in the cold and commotion. Bobby and Aliesha joined them. Others brought out blankets and offered us coffee, or tea, or hot chocolate (The Salvation Army had arrived with the hot chocolate), but neither of us were feeling the cold at this point. All we could do was stand outside watching and waiting.
Time passed slowly. It didn’t seem like much of a fire when I saw it in Aliesha’s room, so I couldn’t help wondering why it was taking so long to put out. I was especially curious as to why it seemed to be getting worse. None of the firemen had come out at this point to tell us anything, so we just kept waiting.
Eventually, one of the firemen did finally approach us to let us know what was going on. He informed us that it wasn’t such a small fire, that it was burning inside the walls of the house. He told us that instead of the fire just burning “up” the walls of the house, it was burning “around” the walls. Basically, instead of the fire burning up the wall, where it started, to the roof, it spread around to the sides to the other walls. This was making it very difficult to fight. One of the other firemen, who had just come out, added to this by telling us that each time they thought they had the fire under control, it would pop out somewhere else. It was a very scary situation for everyone.
Jo’s brother had shown up shortly after he called, he only lived a mile up the road from us, so we weren’t surprised. Then her mother, and then her sister Lori. We began to make arrangements for afterwards. We were thinking rationally enough to know that we were going to need to find a place to stay. Lori agreed to take the kids and the animals. My mother-in-law asked us to stay with her. And that was good enough for everyone. But we still had the issue of the fire to wait out.
More time passed. Windows had burst from the heat, and a section of the roof had collapsed. Things were looking worse as they went. But through all of it I just kept whispering tiny prayers. I didn’t like what was happening, but I was sure that there was a reason why. I certainly didn’t know what it might be, and to be completely honest, I didn’t care. I just wanted it to be done. I wanted the fire to be out, so we could begin doing whatever needed to be done next.
Some time before midnight, one of the firemen came over to where Jo and I were standing to tell us that the fire was finally under control. We didn’t really know what this meant at the moment, but it sounded good to us. It meant that the fire was no longer spreading into different parts of the house. It also meant that there might be some things that we could salvage.
He asked if there was anything specific that we wanted them to look for. Did we ever!
We had already completed our Christmas shopping and had wrapped and stored all of the gifts in our bedroom closet. That’s what we wanted to find. We explained to the fireman which room and where the closet was located. He went off immediately to search for them. It only took a few minutes before he reappeared with the box full of presents.
The cheer that rose from the neighborhood rang out loud. It’s truly amazing how something so simple, can bring such joy to so many people, so easily. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I don’t think that this was any less of a miracle than the entire event, but these were people who had no real, vested interest in whether or not our gifts survived. For all that any of them knew, we might have not even started our shopping, but as soon as those wrapped packages came through the door the cheers and applause went up.
We set the packages on our neighbors porch and the firemen asked me if there was anything else. I remembered that I had left my wallet in the house somewhere, and that it held a recently cashed bonus check. I figured we were going to need that money, so I’d better go find it.
They led me into the house and pretty much let me take in the scenery. The first floor didn’t look too bad. A little messy, but the fire never made it down this far. I saw my work bag laying on the floor in the hallway, and my wallet was right on top. Chalk up another small miracle! I grabbed the bag and headed outside with it.
My work bag is jokingly referred to by some as my “survival bag”. Typically, I have pretty much anything that I might need to survive a nuclear holocaust. Snacks for my breaks, Tylenol, Band-Aids, batteries, CD player, Mini Mag-light, and several other items. One of the more important ones, and the one that held particular interest for me this night, was one of my Bibles.
As I stood on my neighbors porch, and looked across the street at the house, I could still see some of the flames through the hole that used to be my daughters window. I desperately needed some comfort at this time, so I dug out my Bible and turned to the Psalms. I paused for a moment to pray and ask God to guide me to the words that He wanted me to read. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and led me to the 112th Psalm. This is what it says:

“Praise the Lord.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who finds great delight in His commands.
His children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and
righteous man.
Good will come to him who is generous and lends
who conducts his affairs with justice.
Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.
He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.
He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor,
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn will be lifted high in honor.
The wicked man will see and be vexed,
he will gnash his teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to

It was comforting to know that God held such an opinion of me, even though I did not. But I trust Him more than I trust me.
It was now well past midnight, and there was no flame at all visible. Most of the crowd had slowly filtered away by this time and it was now pretty much just Me, Jo, her family, and our neighbors, watching the firemen do their job. And, again, we were allowed to go inside and look around for anything that we might particularly need or want to bring out. This time we were allowed to go up to the second floor. It was devastating.
In the darkness it was hard to see much of anything, but the destruction was plain to see. The charred wooden framework, the missing sections of wall and ceiling, and everything that was in some way smashed or broken by all of the commotion. And all of this through the dim light of the firemen’s helmet lights.
We cautiously moved around to find a few items that we felt were important. I grabbed the entire drawer from the computer desk, because that was where all of our important papers were. Neither of us could avoid taking just a few little trinkets with us, just for safekeeping.
Sometime after 1:00 AM the County Fire Marshall arrived. A routine procedure is to investigate the possibility of arson, so we were asked several questions before he went inside to look over the damage. After about 10 minutes of examining Aliesha’s room he came back outside to talk to us. From what he was able to observe, he determined that the fire was electrical, and it had started between the second and third floor. He told us that the loud “pop” that Jo and the kids had heard was probably the fire hitting a pocket of combustible material in between the frame and the wall. His experience told him that the fire had most likely been smoldering in the wall for several hours before that “pop”. He also informed us that had it not hit that pocket of material, it could’ve continued to burn quietly through the entire night, slowly suffocating us in our sleep, or possibly just bursting into a raging inferno at some point when we would’ve had no chance of getting out of the house. We were truly blessed.
2:30 rolled around and the firemen told us that the fire was out, but that they were going to stay awhile longer to make sure that there were no embers waiting to re-ignite the blaze. We decided that it was finally time to leave. So, we packed up our few belongings and headed over to my mother-in-laws.
As much as I was glad that we had a place to stay for the night, I really wished that it hadn’t been my mother-in-laws. She has a big heart, and is usually well intentioned, but she has this annoying habit of re-living misery. Continuously!
We had just went through the ordeal, and all she wanted to do was talk about it. All Jo and I wanted to do was try to forget about it, at least long enough to get some sleep. I think I managed to convey this idea to her without being rude, and off to sleep we all went.
I’m going to end this days post here, because this story has already run fairly long. I will conclude it tomorrow. After all, the story itself does span more than the one night of the fire. And that is what I’ll share with you in my next installment. be continued...

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Blogger Amie said...

hmmm...waiting for the next

5:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm also waiting for the next, glad that you all got out safe though and are still here to tell the story today :)


10:54 AM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Isn't the Lord's care amazing?

9:18 PM  

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