Friday, July 24, 2009

The Fire Story

I'm too lazy to rewrite this in blog format now that I've already written it all out in an e-mail to Ben. So excuse the mild mushiness and any inaccuracies that have already filtered into my account after just a day of retelling it. Anybody who wants to add their side of what happened or who has a question, please feel free to comment!

And without further ado, the fire story:

Good morning, sweetheart,

I'm so tired. I think I got about 3 hours of sleep last night. I was so wound up that it took me a while to WANT to get ready for bed after I was settled in a room -- I picked up a book and read to settle my mind until about 2 AM -- and then I realized that while I'd packed up my toothbrush and face wash and contact stuff, I'd also left the bag they were in at the house. I was over at Bettie Lorino's for the night, because my mom wanted us all out of the house while the smoke cleared out and also in case lightning struck twice or some faulty wiring in the house struck the fire up again. And I didn't want to wake up Bettie by sneaking out of her house in the middle of the night to get my stuff and then coming back, so I just stayed up for a little while more, cleaned off my teeth with a damp rag, and tried to sleep with my contacts in. It did not work particularly well. ;) (Plus, she has a cat, and I'm allergic, and I forgot to bring my asthma medication. It was a veritable comedy of errors.)

But I bet you're full of curiosity to know what happened, so I figured I'd write a letter before I tried to get some more sleep (or not -- I'm up, I might just stay up. We'll see.)

So, yesterday was a pretty full day of errands and getting stuff done. I decided I like the hotel we looked at better than the Westin, so I went ahead and booked it for us. The area is easier to get to than the Ballston area with less of a headache for parking, and the rooms are comparable to Westin except that it's a suite with a little living & kitchen area in addition to the bedroom, which is nice. The one thing is they don't have room service, but in the morning they do have a full breakfast buffet with an omelet bar where you can get a fresh omelet cooked to order, so I figured that was good enough. Rose-Ellen and I also had fun hunting around for jewelry for the wedding and picking up honeymoon stuff.

We picked up Chinese food for dinner (I'd been telling her about your mom's cooking, so she wanted some) and then had a fairly relaxing evening of socializing and watching TV. The internet was down, but just the wireless, and so Tyler was trying to fix that while we talked. My dad decided to come back from the office early-ish (by which I mean seven) because he wanted to work in the yard. We'd just gotten a little bit of rain in the afternoon, which he was excited about -- apparently it has been a really dry month.

Well, the show we were watching wrapped up at 10, and we all started to filter slowly towards bed. There was a thunder/rainstorm going on, but nothing too drastic yet. I reminded my mom that the next day we'd need to work on the dress, so it'd be ready for pictures on Sunday, if that was still happening, and then went to try and check my e-mail. The internet was still down, so I decided I'd just play a game of solitaire to unwind my brain and then I'd get to sleep.

Well, while I was playing, I heard this enormous crack behind me and a simultaneous flash of lightning. I'm not normally freaked out by lightning storms -- we get them fairly frequently here, but this was really scary. I literally JUMPED away from my computer and ran downstairs to find my mom, like I was six years old again. Everybody gathered in the main hallway to talk about how loud and frightening that was. Dad was watching the storm from the porch and said that he saw the bolt go down right behind the neighbor's house across the street (or possibly on it.) While we were talking, several more loud, close strikes flashed and the thunder resounded through the house. It was genuinely frightening -- we all started getting skittish. We decided we definitely needed to hurry and unplug all the computers and so on and then probably gather in the basement.

So I went upstairs to unplug the computer (which I'd just jumped away from) and close that up. I then headed downstairs with the intention of helping to hunt down the flashlights. While I was on the stairs, however, I spotted a curl of smoke coming from behind one of the wall sconces -- our lighting fixtures there in the family room. I called somebody's attention to it (I think maybe Roland). Initially, I just thought that there'd been a surge of electricity that popped the light and it was just the smoke of a burned-out lightbulb, but then the smoke started getting a bit thicker and creeping in between the ceiling boards and from the corner of the skylight. Roland and Tyler hit the lights and then checked around outside -- there was an orange, flickering glow inside the gutter, and they could tell that the roof was on fire. The word spread fairly quickly through the house. Figuring that it was in the electrical system, somebody (I think mom) sent Rose-Ellen downstairs to throw the breakers and cut off electricity in the house, so everything went dark. In the chaos and mild panic of the moment and of the roof being on fire, we didn't hunt down the flashlights before doing that, so the only lighting we had was from Roland's iPod and my cell.

After Rose-Ellen threw the breakers, she pulled Natalie from her bed and brought her upstairs. Rose-Ellen and Mom started calling for someone to call 911, but neither Tyler nor Roland had theirs on them, and then landline was down, and it took me a minute before I remembered I had mine on me (even though I'd been using it for light). For some reason, even though your house being on fire is like one of the top reasons to dial 911, I felt somehow reticent to do it. I mean, how often had we had it drilled into our heads that it has to be a REALLY REAL emergency before you call 911? Nevertheless, as the smoke continued to thicken, it did seem like it qualified as time to get the fire department there, and 911's the way to get them, so I dialed and handed the phone to mom, because I knew I wouldn't know what to say. She told them that the house had been hit by lightning and the roof was on fire, that there was smoke (it was getting quite hazy and cloudy now in the family room) and that we'd seen flames.

Rose-Ellen was getting quite anxious -- and understandably so, with a baby in her arms and another in her belly and the house all smoky behind her! Normally, in a storm, we'd all go down to the room at the bottom of the stairs, which is enclosed and quite safe from wind storms and lightning strikes and is where all our 72 hour kits are. But where's a safe place in a storm when the house is on fire? The lightning was still coming very frequently, and now our nerves quite compounded the effect -- and the rain was coming down hard. It seemed frightening just to venture onto the porch, much less actually out into the storm itself, even to just get into the cars and go across the street. And so she just didn't know where she could go with Natalie to keep her safe. She started to cry a little.

Dad, Roland and Tyler were all back in the living room, trying to find the source of the flames. (Which, of course, didn't help make any of us any less nervous.) I thought briefly about all the stuff in my room -- all my clothes, all the stuff I'd bought for the wedding -- and thought just very briefly about going to try to rescue a few things, but figured that we'd caught the fire very soon and it was very localized, so it would probably (hopefully) be okay. Mom and I decided the best place for us to go right away would be just out to the car -- cars are safe from lightning, and we would be out of the rain but not in the house. Mom kept my phone in case she needed to call somebody again, and Rose-Ellen and I ran outside to her car, with Natalie in her arms. This is about when you called and I didn't answer. I noticed the time and I worried vaguely that it was about time for your evening call, but there really wasn't anything I could do about it, anyway. (Though not having my cell on me still made me quite antsy.)

We got into the car, with the rain still pouring down around us. Rose-Ellen wanted to move the car to somewhere safer -- somewhere with less trees to potentially fall on us or farther away from lightning strikes -- but without a cell phone on us and with everybody else still in the house, we couldn't go far. She came up with the very good idea to just pull across the street and back into the neighbor's driveway so that we could shine our headlights on the yard and into the house to provide some little light for the people inside, and so they'd be able to easily see where we were. She handed Natalie (who'd been silent and wide-eyed up to this point -- I'd just assumed she didn't know what was going on) over to me to hold while she moved the car. As soon as I held her, I realized why Rose-Ellen had started crying there on the porch when we were trying to figure out what to do -- just because Natalie was quiet, I'd assumed she was doing okay. But the poor baby was TERRIFIED. She was trembling and shaking in my arms, which just about broke MY heart. I can only imagine what it did to her poor mom. We said a prayer that we would be calmed and that things would be all right and everybody would be safe, and while I think it calmed me down more than anything else just to SAY it and remember that we weren't alone in the storm, I'd swear that immediately after we prayed, Natalie's shaking calmed down really significantly. And I felt a lot of comfort, myself, even though I continued to ride that adrenaline rush for much of the rest of the night.

We missed out on a good bit of the action -- I need to get the people who were in the house to fill in what happened while we were in the car. Apparently dad took an axe to the roof to try and see if he could get at the flames before they spread, but the axe was very dull and not much help. So he went upstairs to try to get to the attic to either access the roof from there or just get our fire extinguisher, but the smoke was getting thick enough that Roland worried that he'd pass out or something upstairs -- it got to the point where they had to crouch down to get a breath of air while they were working. So Roland (with his EMT certification still fresh in his mind) ordered dad back downstairs.

I have to say that the men in the house were quite, well, MANLY. They really stepped up to the plate in making decisions and taking care of things -- I guess there's nothing like a fire in the house to bring out a guy's instincts to try to fix things and protect people and save the day. I mean, my dad! Taking an axe to the roof! I need to get Roland to write down the whole story of what happened, because he told it quite well. I was very impressed.

The fire trucks showed up really soon -- and LOTS of them. Apparently another house up the street caught on fire as well, only theirs REALLY caught. The firemen later said that two rooms were totally burnt out. But I guess we called first or something, because the story goes that they tried to waive down the fire truck and it went right on past them to us, where there weren't any visible flames from the front. (But we were indeed on fire!) But firetrucks got to them very quickly thereafter, anyway. I was really impressed with the quick response -- it was probably no more than five to eight minutes from when we called. First there was one firetruck, then there were two, then an emergency response team or ambulance of some kind, just in case -- I think we ended up counting something like eight vehicles.

When the first one came, Roland ran out of the house and knocked on our neighbors across the street (the one whose driveway we were parked in), but they didn't answer. Either they were really oblivious or simply not home, because I don't think they roused the whole night. In any case, Roland spotted us and then climbed into the car and told us some of what happened (dad going at the roof with an axe, et cetera). He just reeked of smoke -- we could smell it right away when he opened car door. Next, mom came running across the street, and absolutely drenched. Apparently she'd already run my wedding dress over to a neighbor's (it was the one thing she thought to save right away -- though the tablecloths she's worked so hard on crossed her mind) and the neighbors insisted that we come over there. We have a very nice neighborhood. I got my cell off of her so I could call you and tell you our house was on fire, which STILL strikes me as pretty funny, though not quite as hilarious as it seemed at the time. As you know, my reaction to panic and stress is apparently hysterical laughter. (Seriously, though. The HOUSE was struck by LIGHTNING and caught on FIRE! It's just like when my car was stolen, and I thought that was the funniest thing in the world to happen, too.)

The neighbors were quite nice -- the mother of the house kept wanting to know if there was anything she could get for us, repeatedly wondering if we wanted any food, or to go lie down in one of their extra beds, or anything. She eventually got us to accept water. (There was a funny moment where she offered us coffee, and my mom was kind of like, "We HAVE told you that we're Mormon, right?" like kind of just to make sure that we weren't slacking in letting people know that they were, but the neighbor got suddenly worried that she'd somehow accidentally given offense by trying to plie us with caffeine. We had a good little laugh over that.) They had a little dog just like Tyler & Rose-Ellen's dog Lacey, who they left in Washington with Tyler's family for the summer, and so Natalie was instantly enchanted by the doggie. She was also enamored of a little stuffed bunny rabbit that was the dog's toy, and walked around the room with that in her arms, wrapped up like a baby in a towel. (This didn't please the dog so well.) She also tried to play the game with us where she points at various body parts -- eyes, ears, nose, et cetera -- and generally just totally charmed the neighbors.

In any case, what we really wanted to do was to sit up and talk about everything and see what was happening, which we did. Dad stayed in the house to help direct the firemen and Roland and Tyler went back and forth between some, while we visited with the neighbors and shared our various parts of the story and all expressed gratitude that we had decided NOT to have the wedding at the house, and wondering about whether all the wedding stuff would be ruined by firehoses or by the smoke, et cetera. I'm sure I'll think to add more to this later. I was still pretty high on adrenaline, and laughing and laughing about things. ("Mom, it's okay that the tablecloths will smell like smoke. We're having a barbecue! It'll be more authentic this way!") I think I was kind of stressing people out by being so giddy about things -- but that's just how I react to stress!

The firemen never did have to use the hoses, but they did need to crawl all over our roof (which they later informed is is quite a steep roof!) and cut into it. Roland says there were scorch marks all up the beams on the inside of it, and that the firemen verified that the house was indeed struck directly by lightning. There was quite a bit of water tracked through the house and it leaked through the roof a bit from the family room, but just rainwater, and not hose water, fortunately. Everything does smell like smoke -- even just a localized fire apparently creates quite a lot of it. The rooms upstairs all smell like a rustic cabin lodge, as I noted on facebook -- just smoky enough to kind of tickle at my throat. I'm sure the tablecloths will smell okay after just a bit of airing out. Apparently an appraiser is coming from the insurance company soon to figure out the true extent of the damage.

The neighbors have been really great for all this -- it really pays to cultivate good relationships with your neighbors! As I mentioned, mom wasn't comfortable with all of us sleeping over at the house, so Rose-Ellen and Tyler and Natalie went over to Linda Wardle's, Roland and I went to Bettie's and Mom and Dad went to Bud's, but it seemed like the whole neighborhood turned out to offer us rooms and food and things to drink. Somebody brought over hot orange rolls this morning for breakfast and we'll probably get dinner brought as well. (Of course, what we really need are for people to help EMPTY our fridges so we can fit wedding stuff in there, not to fill them more! But it's the thought that counts.)

Anyway, everybody is safe, there's not too much damage to the house, and it makes a GREAT story to tell at the reception, I figure -- and a fun story to tell our kids someday! And now we know that we were definitely inspired to have the wedding at the church instead of at home. We're not even doing a bridal shower here, thankfully.

I think I may win the prize for most chaotic Wood wedding ever, though! Roland or Christian would really have to pull out the stops to top THIS. :) I mean, the drama! Lightning! Fire! Pregnant women pulling babies out of cribs! Wedding dresses being dashed across the street through the rain! Tablecloths in danger! We all think the local news should have come and interviewed us (Roland tried to call dibs on being first interviewed, until I pulled the "it's MY wedding" trump card on him), but they missed out. I guess it was just a crazy night.

Anyway, I'm going to get cleaned up and straighten my room a little. I was pretty embarrassed that the firemen had to track through my messy room to open my window to let out the smoke last night! I don't want to feel embarrassed all over again when the appraiser comes. But I love you and can't wait for you to come and share in all this craziness with me!

Yours (with bonus rustic woodsmoke scent!) always,

Sarah