The trees outside my balcony sliding door glowed an eerie orange as I was awakened with what I first thought was gunfire. Pop…..pop, pop. But then I heard breaking glass and a strange rumble. Something wasn’t right. It shouldn’t be this bright yet. It’s not morning. I got out of bed, opened the door and stepped outside to see the house just three doors down engulfed in flames at least 80 feet high. I hollered in to my husband, “CALL 9-1-1!”
“What?” he said – trying to rouse himself.
I stepped inside and grappled for the phone on his bedside table and called for help. It was a dark 4 am and all I could hear was the hungry flames devouring the entire backside of the three-story end unit townhouse. As I informed the 9-1-1 operator the fire began to reach into the forested park that stretches behind our houses. Finally, (although only a minute passed) I could hear the nearing sirens of the fire engines. The fire burst and climbed higher as a nearby tree was enveloped.
I felt the rush of adrenaline that inspires flight in times like these. I felt relief once I knew my family was safe. I felt intrigued to observe the life altering drama just steps away from my front door.
It was a 2 alarm fire and the wonderful men and women of our local fire department worked seamlessly to keep the devastating fire from consuming the several attached town homes. It took an hour to contain the blaze. Seven hours after the pop’s that awakened me the owner is still unaccounted for. As I type I hear axes hitting the charred wood as the investigators attempt to search the home for cause and…remains.
All morning my heart has been stirred with overwhelming fear of the uncontrollable and a healthy respect for fire. I live in a home with three small children ages 5, 4 and 2. My husband is a heavy sleeper. My house is cluttered with scattered toys, books off shelves in walkways, piles of laundry, briefcase and backpacks on the floor in the foyer, shoes spilling out of the closet into the path of the garage door. All of this normal, bothersome clutter I suddenly saw as a life threatening hazard. How fast could we get out of the house?
I had the privilege of serving breakfast to the woman who made the first 9-1-1 call this morning. Her townhouse was the one next to the blaze. She shared with me how fast it all happened. The pop’s woke her up. She smelled smoke and could see glowing out her window, she called 9-1-1, got dressed all before the smoke detectors went off! After 2 minutes the whole house was filled with smoke and she had to crawl to keep breathable air – she made it out safely but not before the entire back side of her neighbor’s home was an unapproachable inferno. From waking up to getting out it was less than 3 minutes and her house wasn’t on fire. As s looked around at my children playing on the floor she told me how grateful she was that she her son was grown and she didn’t have pets to worry about getting safe.
My husband and I have talked on many occasions about creating a fire escape plan, the importance of checking smoke detectors and even about getting a fire escape ladder. But we have never actually done it. Any of it. O.K. we’ve changed a smoke detector battery but only when it makes that incessant and irritating beep every 60 seconds warning that the battery is about dead.
That changed today.
At first light, Jonathan went online and found this checklist from FEMA. We changed our fire detector batteries, ordered a fire escape ladders, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors and probably the most important thing;
We did fire drills with our kids!
We made an escape plan.
Found our meeting place across the street.
Taught them how and why to crawl or stay low. (We used Turbo the racing snail as an example – low and fast!)
And explained how to go to the neighbors to call 9-1-1.
They did great. Perhaps it helped that we had such a tangible example for them to see, fire engines and Marshall trucks still blocking the street.
I cannot imagine if I woke up to a blaze in my house like the one I witnessed this morning. May I never know what that’s like. But the experience caused a healthy fear that helped spur my family to make a plan and be prepared should an emergency happen. I pray we never have to use it.
It’s fire season.
Do you have a plan in case of a fire? Do your children know what to do? Do you follow a fire safety checklist to keep your household safe? Have you done a fire drill in the last 6 months?
Please help spread the word about how taking small steps can prevent catastrophe, share this on your Facebook, Twitter or other favorite social media site.
Be a herald. Together we can make a difference!
Have you ever seen a house fire up close? How did you feel?