Fire is one of the most tragic forms of disaster that exist.
Imagine being two days from the due date of your first child. The walls are adorned with a chosen theme & colour. The room is set with furniture & beautiful fabrics to match. The closet, drawers & change table are full of the many gifts from your baby shower & the endless shopping trips. You are stocked, prepared and ready to welcome the most life changing form of happiness there is. Now imagine, you return from running errands, open the door to your home, only to have thick black smoke billow out. There is a fire in your home! You cannot see your own hand in front of your face because the black smoke is so thick. Imagine your pets are inside that house? What do you do? This is the event that my husband Dave & I were faced with.
As Dave rushed into the house to search for our two cats, Tehya and Tika, I followed behind him & began opening windows. As I opened the front door, & the smoke billowed out, I saw my next door neighbours pulling in their driveway. I yelled out the front door for help and then entered back into the house to help Dave search for the cats. The house was so dark from the smoke that we feared we were going to step on them if they were unconscious on the floor. It was difficult to see, even with a flashlight. The neighbours raced to the scene & dragged me out of the house as I was nine months pregnant, ready to give birth. Once outside, the shock set in. All I remember is begging Dave to find our fur babies. The minutes seemed very long as I stood there, shaking in panic, desperate to see Dave come out with our girls. Then, finally, out he came with Tehya, passing her to me so he could go back in to continue to look for Tika. Upon looking at Tehya, it only upset and scared me more. She looked very grim. Soot was pouring out of her nose, eyes and mouth. She was having a hard time breathing. Then out of the haze of smoke that lingered around the back door, came Dave…and Tika was in his arms! She looked even more ill then Tehya. I took them both over to our pickup truck and put them inside to keep them safe. They looked like ducks caught in an oil spill, covered in soot & smoke but they were alive! Dave later told me that they had taken refuge under the bed. Tika had actually crawled through a small hole in the lining of the box spring that she created as a kitten & hid right inside. Dave had to basically rip her from one of the boards as she clung to it & wouldn’t budge. Just as I headed to our detached garage to get water for them to drink & clean them up, the firetrucks and paramedics arrived on the scene. They insisted on immediately checking me out. We went out to the front of the house to the ambulance. A large crowd of neighbours had now gathered in front of our house, standing, staring, watching in silence. I’ve never felt so front and center in my entire life as I did at this point. As I sat there shaking, the paramedics examined me. It was the first chance I had to have a look myself. I looked down at my arms and at my hands. I was covered in thick black soot. As the paramedic looked down my throat, I began to notice the nasty taste in my mouth & horrible stench in my nose. I had inhaled & ingested a lot of soot & smoke. The paramedics hooked me up to oxygen & put me in the ambulance. Dave stayed behind to talk with the firefighters.
The ride to the hospital is still a little blurry. The whole ride, I was still in a panic. I was sick with worry whether my baby inside of me was okay with all the soot and smoke that I had taken in. And my cats did not look good when I left them. I think one of my next door neighbour(s) rode to the hospital with me. They were both in the hospital room with me. They still tell me to this day, that I was in shock at the hospital as I wasn’t making a lot of sense and upset with worry. They put some of my worries at ease though as they explained Dave had taken the cats to their house & put them in a bedroom, safe until we could pick them up. I was put on more oxygen for the smoke inhalation and as a precaution for carbon monoxide poisoning. Smoke from any type of fire is comprised of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and soot. I had also breathed in and probably ingested chemicals from the plastics and melamines involved in the fire. I was hooked to a fetal monitor to assess the safety of the baby. Dave arrived. I’m not sure why but he was never treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. He was in the house longer than I. When I was given the “all clear,” we headed home…or for a lack of a better term…what was left of it.
Dave warned and prepared me on the ride home for what I was about to see. I could smell it from the driveway when we got out of the truck. But until I opened the door and it stood before me, I could never have imagined. It was dark outside now, so we turned on the lights. The soot was so thick on all of the light fixtures that the rooms just had an orange glow. And there it was…Our home where we spent the last ten years together , updating and renovating, completely ruined. Everywhere you looked was covered in a thick layer of black, dirty, putrid soot. It didn’t stink…it reeked. There was nothing left. My heart felt heavy as I approached the baby’s room. The room, that just a few days prior, my mom & I had finished decorating. It was devastating. The crib, the floor, the change table…everything was covered in that thick, black soot. Every stud behind the drywall & every screw in the wall could be seen due to the heat damage. I don’t know how my cats coped through it. If we had arrived much later, I’m not sure they would have. I couldn’t stand to look at it any longer. I went into our bedroom, holding back tears as I surveyed the damage. I retrieved my jewelry box, some photos and although I am not overly religious, I also took the Bible that my grandmother gave to me on my Christening day in 1973. It’s just one of those things I had always kept secure because it was from my Grandmother and she had passed away a few years earlier. All of these items were also covered in thick black soot. There wasn’t an inch of space not covered in it.
Feeling heartbroken and defeated, Dave & I headed to the neighbours to pick up Tehya and Tika. Both cats hid under a couch in the neighbour’s bedroom. We tried for long time to gently coax them out knowing that they must be traumatized. With no success, Dave finally lifted the couch & I scooped them up. We put them in our truck and headed to my parents house. They howled the whole way. We had to stop at a 24 hour grocery store to pick up cat food, cat bowls and a litter box. All of their belongings were gone too. Still covered head to toe in soot and me, busting out pregnant, the cashier asked “Omg, are you guys okay?” Fighting tears, I replied softly, “No we’re not. We just lost everything in a fire.” She helped us find what we needed and we were on our way once again.
When we pulled into my parents driveway, I could see my mom waiting at the door for us. She quickly came outside to meet us & as soon as she saw us, she too broke into tears. To this day, I wish we had thought to take a picture of how we looked. However, I will never forget the image in my mind. I will definitely never forget that distinct smell and taste of soot either. Dave & I coughed that soot up & blew it out of our noses for well over a week or two after the fire.
An electrical fire in the kitchen was the cause of the fire. It was an extremely hot day at the end of May. Dave and I had put our air conditioner in the kitchen window. I put an oscillating table fan on top of our glass stove top to push & circulate air faster throughout the house. The fan caught fire & melted. The heat caused the back of the stove, melamine countertops, wall shelving and cabinetry to also melt. Our air conditioner was very large and powerful. It fed the toxic soot and smoke through the entire house. We are not sure how long the fire occurred as we were out at the time.
I wouldn’t wish a fire on even my worst enemy. It’s tragic. It’s devastating. It takes everything in a blink of an eye.
Next: Assessing The Damage (read)>