Up in Smoke

In May, the house next door to ours caught on fire. Fortunately, the elderly lady who lived in the house moved to a nursing home earlier this year so nobody was hurt in the incident. One of her sons maintains the home and yard and was mowing the lawn when the fire started. He told us later he had started the three motorcycles he and his brothers store in their mother’s garage, along with her mini-van, and planned to let them run while he mowed. Something in the garage must’ve sparked because my 4-year-old daughter Clare alerted me to the smoke next door.

Another neighbor and I ran outside at the same time to see how we could help. We both realized the fire already was out of control. Flames had engulfed the garage and everything inside. It was time to call 911.

We live in a small town and my husband is a volunteer firefighter, so Clare and I know most of the volunteers in the department very well. I’m sure everyone is relieved when they see fire trucks arrive in their neighborhood during a fire, but there’s something especially calming about seeing familiar faces in those trucks and knowing your friends are assisting during a frightening situation.

The fire quickly spread to the ranch-style home’s attic, and we could see smoke coming out of the attic vent facing our house and the roof’s ridge vent. The garage and eastern half of the home, which is attached to the garage, are a total loss while the western half, which faces our house, was severely smoke damaged.

Since the fire, I’m pretty sure the entire town has cruised past the devastation at least once. We live on a dead-end street so there’s no other reason for traffic on our street than to ogle someone else’s tragedy. We’ve even seen people coming with their coffee on weekend mornings and walking around the property, as well as parents carrying young children into the garage and looking around. One lady actually went inside the house! She rang our doorbell later to say her grandparents had once lived in the house and she was feeling especially sentimental now that the home was ruined.

At first, I was taken aback by the sheer nosiness of these folks, but then I realized a fire could happen to anyone and these people likely are confronting their own fears about losing one of their most prized possessions—their homes. We spend so much time building, remodeling and/or decorating our homes to make them our own that to lose everything in a matter of minutes is a terrifying prospect. Ultimately, my husband and I have made some changes since the fire, like finally replacing a smoke alarm that failed months ago. There’s nothing like a tragedy to remind you how quickly everything can go up in smoke.

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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