A Firey Start to the New Year

Let me start by saying that we are all fine, including our cats.

Almost two weeks ago, one morning right after the big kids left for school, BF and I were sitting in our bedroom, playing with the baby before he had to get ready for work, when I heard this weird beeping noise that I hadn’t heard before. At first I thought it was a truck backing down the street, but when the noise didn’t move closer to us I listened harder and realized that it was coming from inside of our house. I figured it was the automatic thermostats battery warning, so I headed down to the family room to reset it.

Once downstairs, I found the thermostat quiet. Feeling confused, I continued my way towards the beeping sound. I walked through the kitchen and down to the basement. The beeping was coming from the laundry room and when I opened the door I immediately saw the red light on the smoke detector blinking. I took it down from the ceiling to reset it and as I turned my eyes caught a glimpse of a smoke trail. It was then that I smelled a faint burning and followed the scent with my nose. Nothing was making sense, and I walked around the room in a circle before I heard the dryer running. I remembered the clothes that I had put in the dryer only 30 minutes before, so I opened the door.

The moment I opened the dryer door I could see the flames licking the lint vent. I stared at them for a second or two, frozen with disbelief.  The flames looked so much different than any other fire I had seen before and I debated whether to pull the clothing out of the dryer. When I noticed the fire glowing on the floor underneath the dryer I decided to leave them be and ran upstairs calling to BF yelling “There is a fire in the dryer!”

I ran back down to the basement and looked unsuccessfully for the fire extinguisher and started to panic as the room filled with smoke. BF came downstairs and handed the baby to me and told me to go upstairs and call the fire department. While I was on the phone with 911 BF used to fire extinguisher without success. The dispatcher on the phone told us to get out of the house and that the fire department would be on their way. I yelled down to BF, “We have to get out!” I grabbed a jacket and a blanket for the baby and we went outside to the front porch to wait for the firemen.

It was probably only a minute before the firemen start arriving but it felt like an hour. As the three of us stood on the porch with a police officer, BF told me he tried to get our cat, Spook, outside but he ran upstairs. I became upset and opened the front door to call the cats. Within a minute or two, the entire inside of the house was pitch black and filled with thick smoke. Despite calling for our cats, they wouldn’t come to me; I couldn’t see them, or anything at all, besides the smoke. The police officer moved us across the street, assuring me they would look for the cats.  He then evacuated my attached neighbor and we watched helplessly as more and more fire trucks arrived.

From our spot across the street we could hear glass shattering on the patio as the windows were broken open. The voices of firemen hollering to each other about breaking walls open echoed down the block and I could only imagine my kitchen, which is above my laundry room, being destroyed by the fire. After about 15 minutes, the fire investigator came over and said that the fire was out. He said we were lucky that it was a small fire, but it had left the house inhabitable. He said the firemen would be removing all the windows to rid the house of the smoke and reported that they hadn’t found the cats, but would continue to look for them. He said that after the smoke was cleared and he was done his investigation he would walk us through the home so we could see the damages and advised that I get on the phone with my insurance company while we were waiting.

Watching all the windows being removed and seeing the smoke exiting even the top floor was incredible. I was certain by the looks of things that the back part of my house had burned off.  It was freezing cold and raining and thankfully a kind neighbor invited us to stay warm in their home while we sorted things out. I began with what would be a long line of phone calls, still trying to wrap my mind around what was going on.

Once the house was okay to walk through the investigator and fire chief took us through room by room and showed us exactly what they did and what damage the fire caused. The smell of the house is indescribable, one that got right into our noses and lungs and burned like you wouldn’t believe. Aside from the broken glass everywhere and a hole in the wall, the kitchen looked to be in tact. They led us down to the basement to find more broken glass, water and the walls burnt where the dryer was. The washer was half charred and the ceiling walls and pipes were now black. He led us up to the back yard to see the dryer. It had been white at one point, but was now black with remnants of the clothes that were drying in the barrel and strewed across the patio. The fire chief praised me for have a smoke detector so close to the dryer and for not ignoring the beeping as the fire could have been so much worse.

After the walk through the investigator told us we should grab some clothing, arrange for a place to stay for a few days and hire someone to board up the windows. He advised us that the electric and gas had been shut off to the house as a precaution and warned us that adjusters would be flocking our block quickly, trying to get our business. He said it would be a few days before we could return to the house, maybe longer before we could move back in. The insurance company was very kind and helped set up the cleaning company and board up. My contact let me know she was available to help at any time and would be able to set us up with a hotel while everything was being worked on. I let her know that I would like to stay with family for a few days while the clean up was being done. Little did I know that what I thought would be a few days would quickly turn into a few weeks.

While I was on the phone with my insurance contact I saw one of my cats poking his head out of one of the open windows and immediately felt relieved. A little while later when BF was in the house collecting some clothes for us the other cat came out to him. I was so grateful that they were okay. I am so grateful that we are all okay.

The whole day went by in a haze, it was cold and rainy and while we waited for the board up and the cleaning company to come evaluate the home we got lunch, made numerous phone calls and tried to focus on the positives. We were okay. The house wasn’t a total loss. The cats were fine. It wasn’t until we spoke with the cleaning company that we realized just how much damage was done to the home. They said that the whole house would need to be cleaned, from top to bottom. Our clothes, our electronics, the walls, floors, and everything in between. They said it could be weeks to months before we would be able to live there, and still, none of it was sinking in.

I made arrangements for the big kids to stay with their father for a few days and BF and I made our way to each of our parents houses. He had Elliot with him for the night and I just wanted to cry and vent with my parents. The next morning I picked up Elliot and we spent the day with my folks. I was on the phone a lot with the insurance company, who advised me that since the damage was far worse than initially thought I would need to meet the next day with large claim adjusters.  Thankfully, my dad offered to go to the house with me and my mom and brother offered to watch Elliot while we were there.

Entering the house the next day was nothing short of depressing. The smell still burned my lungs and the house was cold and dark. The adjusters were kind and happy people who let me know that even though things were bad, we really were very lucky. They said the next house that they had to visit was a total loss, and although things were bad at our house, it really could have been much worse. Things weren’t really sinking in still, and when one of the adjusters let me know that everything would need to be replaced, I admit that I was surprised. I never knew how damaging smoke could be. She said everything was destroyed, and no matter how well we cleaned our items the smoke smell would always return.

After two nights of sleeping in different places from BF and not having the big kids, I wanted us all to be together again more than anything. Since we were told it would take much longer to move back home, and the kids have school, I had to make arrangements for us. I worried about the cats and let my insurance contact know I wanted them to be with us, rather than having to board them somewhere. I was concerned that we would be placed in a run down slum in Philadelphia, but was set up in a very nice hotel with two bedrooms, two baths and a kitchen. It’s not too far from the house, the schools and the normal places we go and they allow pets.

I’m still feeling very overwhelmed and just want to be home. I am so grateful that I have a good insurance company and my family (including the cats) are all together and safe. The repairs have been slow going and more things have gone wrong in the process, but I’ll get to that at another time. I’ve learned a lot during this experience although I could have done without any of it. I’ll leave you with saying what I’ve been saying over and over these past few weeks though.. You get what you get, and you don’t get upset. Oh, and please make sure you have working smoke detectors in your home, they really do save lives.