The insurance adjuster met us at our home to asses the fire damage. “Don’t worry we’ll take care of you,” he said as he shook our hands on my due date to give birth.
The insurance company brought in their “restoration” crew to assess the fire damage. The adjuster referred to them as their “specialized cleanup crew who are experts in dealing with this kind of fire damage.” We were introduced to the owner of the restoration company. He said our fire was on their top ten list of fire damage because it was a total loss due to soot and smoke as opposed to flames. He then introduced us to the crew manager. She told told us, “Keep nothing, especially the baby’s items. Everything can be replaced. The only things that might respond to cleaning are hard surfaces like wood or metal.” She explained to me that due to the heavy soot all appliances and electronics would be written off by their “expert” when he assessed the fire damage. She explained that you cannot clean electronics. Electronics are not manufactured to be in humidity, let alone covered in a smoke film. Even light smoke damage can pose it to short circuit or potentially catch fire. I expressed concern about my clothes. I had an extensive wardrobe as I managed a jewelry and gift shop for many years. I had many dress clothes, leathers and suedes. She advised against it, repeating that it all could all be replaced, but she said if I really wanted them that they could have them cleaned. She told me if upon inspection, I wasn’t happy with them, I didn’t have to accept them. I could reject them . We had many collectibles and keepsakes such as Royal Doulton and NHL figurines also. She said they could attempt to clean them and again I could reject them if they weren’t to our satisfaction. She also said “Wow. You are actually amazing to work with. Most people just want all new stuff.”
I gazed around the house. The soot had settled now. It covered everything we owned. It looked like thick black spider webs were hanging from the ceiling everywhere and in every corner. It looked like something from a haunted house. The crew manager explained to me that they are called “soot or smoke webs”. When plastics burn or smolder slowly, the smoke carries a stronger charge than when wood, cotton or paper burns. This causes soot and smoke residue to form webs where the walls and ceiling come together.
The odour in the house was even stronger and more putrid now. There were approximately eight, maybe ten employees, from the restoration crew sorting through the soot, smoke and fire damage throughout our home. All of them wore rubber gloves and many had face masks protecting their mouths and noses. I saw them sorting through our storage room. Even our large airtight storage bins with snap on lids were filled with soot.
The employess were writing an inventory of our belongings and packing our things into boxes. When the employees filled a box, they closed it and attached a handwritten inventory of what was in the particular box. They would take all of our possessions to their warehouse facility.
Not only were the walls and ceilings black with soot and smoke, but every screw head was visible too. While hidden by drywall, metal nail and screw heads still create a magnetic attraction, causing ionized smoke particles to land in a ring around them. Dave had actually replaced much of the drywall in our house only a few years prior as we had done major upgrades and renovations to our home.
Some employees were washing dishes and glassware in our sink. Others were wiping down walls with what looked like special sponges.
I looked into the living room and my heart sank when I saw our 90 gallon fish tank. It was filled with murky grey water. The fish were still alive but obviously looked like they were struggling to survive. Dave quickly went to our detached shed/garage in the backyard and brought back a styrofoam cooler. I filled it with some water from the tap (not the ideal environment but better than what they had) and removed them from the tank into the cooler. Dave and I retrieved some of our personal files and paperwork which was covered in soot, gave the restoration company a house key and left. I added the fish to my parents tank when we returned to their house. Sadly none survived more than a week.
We stopped in from time to time over the next week as I was passed my due date to deliver the baby and had doctor appointments in town. They were still wiping our walls with the sponges. I went to the owner of the company and asked “Why are you spending so much time wiping the walls down when it is obvious that they will need to be ripped out?” His reply; “Well this is how we the assess the fire damage. Our next step is to remove small test patches of drywall to see how much soot and smoke penetrated through the walls.”
My water broke exactly one week after the day of the fire. Coincidentally, almost to the exact time that we arrived home to discover the fire. It was a very difficult birth. I was induced twice. Baby Rees did not seem to want to come out! I was given five epidurals due to nerve complications (apparently the legal limit is three). I went through approximately 36 hours of excruciating painful labour. It was only the last epidural that actually took effect and I was finally dilated enough to begin pushing. It was then we discovered that the baby was sunny side up and the cord was wrapped around the neck. I was taken for an emergency c-section.
We were in for one more shocker…”Oh!” exclaimed everyone. “It’s a boy!” We had been told three times, even a week prior, by the ultrasound technician that we were having a girl. The bedroom, the clothes, everything had been planned and chosen for a girl. It was all gone now anyways, due to the fire. Our family and friends brought to the hospital many new pieces of clothing for him. It took us a week to finally decide on a name. We named him Tyson Maximus. Although in disbelief at the week’s turn of the events with the fire and birth, we couldn’t have been more ecstatic to have a healthy baby boy. It’s strange the way life works. One day you’re challenged with the worst day of your life and then the next you are blessed with the best day of your life.
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