Verba volant, scripta manent (gracie_musica) wrote,
Verba volant, scripta manent

The Great Fire of 2011 or Why the Month of May is FIRED

(this post originally showed up on my Travel Blog, but I knew I had to mirror it here)

“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
-- Winston Churchill

Keep Calm And Carry On, motivational poster by an unnamed British civil servant, 1939, in the event of a German takeover of England, rediscovered in 2000 in a used bookstore
Now Panic and Freak Out, parody motivational poster by artist Olly Moss, circa 2009

Allow me to introduce a new word into your vocabulary: Hurrication (v.) -- when one evacuates their place of residence for a hurricane and ends up staying in a hotel or with extended family for an unspecified amount of time.

There are trips that no one intends to take.

Natural disasters are... vicious. Sometimes -- floods, hurricanes -- you get warning. Other times -- tornadoes -- you're lucky to make it out with shoes on.

On May 2 at 9:25, we were having a terrible thunderstorm. I know it was 9:25, because Mom and I were watching Law and Order: LA, and while they hadn't quite caught the criminal yet, they were really, really close. Lightning struck a tree in the yard across the street, and when the current grounded, it went into a water main and into three houses. The house the tree belongs to lost their ice maker in their fridge. The house next to us lost a TV and a fan.

In ours, it made nearly everything plugged in spark out. The desktop, I am not kidding you, let off a five-foot arc of bright blue electricity when the screen blew out, from its position on the former kitchen table to halfway across the living room, three feet high and even with the middle of the fireplace. The TV in my mother's room died, while our big screen up front just got really snowy.

It also set the hot water heater on fire.

Mom had been in the back, laying down and watching TV; she got up to come finish up the episode up front with me. Thank God she did. We started smelling smoke, and I naturally assumed that it was the desktop and started unplugging it.

And then the smoke alarm in the hallway started going off.

Now our hot water heater resided in our laundry room, a little closet-sized room in the middle of our hallway. Fire in a small, contained space caught fast. The next thing I know, my mother's yelling for me to call 911.

This is going to sound awful, but I laughed. I really did. I couldn't see the room, just a little bit of smoke. I honestly thought she was overreacting -- which really isn't all that much of a stretch if you know her. She tends to get a little bit jumpy every now and again, bless her. It's probably a good thing that she did. I had been on my laptop at the time, so I snagged that, threw on some sandals and called the fire department. Mom grabbed our purses and her gradebook (she's a teacher, it's almost the end of the year... that would have been a terrible thing to lose).

Mom is, by this time, hysterical. And I'm actually starting to get that way because there's all this smoke pouring out of the house. Monday is traditionally my father's poker night. It's me and Mom and a fire.

So my mother does the sensible thing and calls my father, yells that the house is on fire. Then hangs up.

She then proceeds to call one of our neighbors, Ms. T. Her husband Mr. T (who is not black, but he does kick ass) and her two high-school aged sons come running over to help.

By this time Mom is seriously flipping, and she remembers that our next door neighbor is a volunteer firefighter. She sends me over -- she is refusing to leave the house -- and I said to the person who opened the door, and I quote, "Can we have some help, please? Our house is on fire and my mother's losing her mind." Our neighbors have been giving us headaches throughout the years, especially since the two sons have acquired strays that live with them now and they can get rowdy on occasion, but bless them, all of them came running out with fire extinguishers to help us.

The Ts and our neighbors probably saved most of our house by doing that. They didn't manage to put it out before the smoke completely drove them out, but they got it under control long enough for the fire departments to show up.

Did I say departments? Yes. Four of them. We had four trucks from four different cities/districts/areas show up in under 10 minutes from the time I called 911. The first two that turned up were the volunteer departments.

One of the girls next door came up and put her arms around my mother and prayed with us, which didn't really do anything for me, but it made my mother feel better. We bundled her up and the two of us walked across the street to Ms. T with one of the boys.

Ms. T, by they way, has the most adorable granddaughter. Her mother was a friend of mine when we were younger, and the baby is the spitting image of her mother at that age. She was sort of exactly what was needed, because she looks up at me and goes, "What happened?"

Me: "There was a fire, baby girl."

Her eyes got even wider. "Is everyone okay?!"

Me: "Yes, honey. The firemen are doing very good jobs and putting the fire out."

Deep sigh of relief. "Okay. Wanna play Barbies?"

Yes. I actually did.

The paramedics turned up and listened to all of our lungs because we'd been exposed to smoke, but Mom was the only one who was wheezing, so we got to have a trip in an ambulance. It's 10 by this time, and I'm just realizing that holy crap, I have work the next day. I played a little phone tag and managed to score my manger's phone number, explained the situation, and told her I was very sorry but I wouldn't be in.

The paramedic told me that I was the most apologetic fire victim he'd ever heard.

Mom was fine -- it, of course, took us two hours for the doctors to figure that out -- and in the meantime I managed to talk to [profile] midassa_in_gold and her darling partner Walkabout Man, both of who made me laugh at a time when I dearly needed it. I was in the middle of posting a story when the lightning struck, so they teased me mercilessly about angering the gods with my mad writing skillz. My vote is that I've attracted the attention of a trickster god. I would so be one of their favored, don't you think?

So... Yeah. Since then, we've been living in a hotel. A month on a fold-out couch is not good. My hips and back will never be the same. But next week, we get to move into a new rent house, which is about five minutes away from our house. We'll be able to keep track of everything while we're rebuilding.

Insurance is taking care of a lot of stuff. Most of our stuff, actually. They've been really stellar.

The bookshelves in our living room. The fire -- or at least heat from it -- spread through our attic and out the vents. The paint (and the wood paneling under it) bubbled up from the heat.

We lost a lot of things in our attic. Pretty much everything over eight feet got heat damaged and is going to be lost. A lot of heirlooms are gone, but we keep finding little treasures here and there; pictures, baby clothes. Mom found a St. Francis cross she'd bought when she was a student in Italy and blessed by Pope John Paul II after his coronation that was perfectly fine, while the lamp two feet away was completely burnt out. I freely admit that Faith and I have been at odds for years, but it makes her happy and I can't begrudge her that right now.

After something like this, everything you can save is precious. You go through your life, piece by piece, and decide what you want and what you don't, what you can save and what you can't. I love this, but I can't save it. I hate this, but it's all I have left.

We also got two inches of water in the house. Remember when I said that the electrical current came up through the water pipes? So it was like Heaven and Hell fighting for our souls, heavenly fire and the Kracken, the seas boiling. All that was missing was a demon with a tire iron.

A picture taken from the source of the fire. Yes, that is sunlight coming through my roof.

Despite all that damage, though, most of our stuff is merely smoke damaged. Merely being relative, of course. Porcelain, white clothing, pine wood, it soaked up all that smell; but apparently they can get the smell out of books and DVDs (almost all of mine were saved due to clothes that weren't in the closet hanging over my books and moving my DVDs into a new bookshelf; I lost a few books I was in the middle of reading, but that's easily replaced). Stuff I personally lost was mostly tech, and honestly needed upgrading anyway.

I was honestly okay with everything -- someone has to be the stable one -- until I found out that we're going to level the house.

Right now, the structure is good, even with holes in the roof and my bedroom window knocked out to allow water and smoke out of the residence. Four contractors have come through and said no matter how much money we put into the house, without leveling it we will be limited on what we can get back in resell because there will always be a question of structural integrity.

So... I'm homeless.

Home will never, ever be the same again. Sure, we'll rebuild, and quite a bit will be put back the way it was -- we really had a gorgeous house -- but... It won't be Home. It won't be familiar. Midassa says I should pretend like I slipped through a different universe, that the Doctor made everything just a little different. Trust me; I wish I was traveling.

I wish that my heart wasn't breaking.

I wish I didn't feel like I was homeless. I've had friends who've had it a lot worse than me in the past couple of years -- the economy has been highly unforgiving to many people I know. I just feel so helpless and alone, and I feel terrible for feeling this way. I'm alive. I have my family. I have most of my stuff. Home is what you make of it, blah blah blah.

I. Am. Homeless.

I was fine until I heard that.

The current view out of my bedroom window.

It does get better. It's been about a week since my parents decided to level everything, and I'm not so shattered anymore. It'll be much better once we're in the rent house. I'll have a decent night's sleep, for one, and that always makes everything better. We're doing mattress shopping this long weekend; I'm going to go find the biggest, comfiest one I can.

And damn the expense. Insurance is paying for it, anyway.
Tags: *headdesk*, fire of 2011

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