Fire Narrative

(Originally posted on Xanga on May 15th, 2011)

We’ve had a very interesting few days this week since Wednesday!

Shortly after 11am, when Megan had finished her last Great Books class of the semester, I left Geneva and Jacob at home with mom, and drove her and Laurent over to a friend’s house to do some “mother’s helper” work for the afternoon.  I had just started back home when I got a phone call from Geneva – almost incoherent – and it took several tries before I understood that she was saying “The house is on fire!”  Once I ascertained that she had already called the fire department, I told her I was hurrying home, and that it would be ok, before hanging up and calling Paul at work.  He left immediately for home.

I could see black smoke rising from the neighborhood from 2 miles away as I drove…. as I approached the last stoplight before our house, all traffic stopped while an ambulance raced up behind and around us… so I ended up following that ambulance all the way to our street and parking behind it as it went beyond the yellow tape that was keeping traffic away from the house.

I had been praying all the way home “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy…” and “Oh Lord, help me to stay calm and do what I need to do.”  As I hurried to the officer behind the caution tape, though, my heart raced into dangerously high gear, and I fleetingly wondered if this was what a heart attack felt like.  I reached him and could only gasp out “It’s…my…house!”  He let me right through, but then I had to stay there, 2 houses away from my house.  People were approaching me and all I wanted to know was “Where is my family?  Where are my children?  Where is my mother?”

They assured me everyone was out, everyone was fine, and pointed down the street just beyond our house to where they were on the sidewalk in front of our neighbor’s house, and said they would try to get us together.  It was obvious mother could not come to me with her walker because of the great fire hoses running across the sidewalk… but just then Geneva and Jacob saw me, and broke away from their emergency workers and ran toward me full speed.  It was only when my arms were around them that my heart began to slow down.  In the few minutes we waited there together before we could go join mother, I could not help but notice, incongruously, that Jacob had NOT washed his breakfast smoothie from around his mouth yet…

Finally a crisis team came and escorted us down to mom and we were given some chairs and water and able to begin to try to process what was happening, what had happened, and what was going to happen.  The fire investigator took each of the children aside to question them individually, and there was a little bit of discrepancy between the two stories, so then he took me aside to question me about that.  He mentioned that Jacob had looked a little furtive and wouldn’t look him in the eye when he was asking him about whether he’d been outside or not, but then, before I could explain about his Asperger’s, he said he then asked Jacob if he had ADHD, since he had a grandson who was, and he tended to be that way too.  So I was grateful for the opening to share with him that yes, it’s his autism, and he doesn’t really look at people when he’s talking to them even when he’s NOT being queried about a fire!

Anyway, the story did emerge that after I left the house, Jacob went outside to jump on the trampoline, and while he was there, he saw what he thought was dust coming from the door of the shed across the yard.  He thought nothing more of it, and went inside soon because a spring was broken on the trampoline.  Within a minute or two though, he saw flames coming out of the shed, and raced to tell Geneva.  She, in turn, raced to tell her Grandmother, who was in her front bedroom on that same side of the house, called the fire department on her phone, and they made for the front door – mom even went without her walker, though when she reached the front of the house she realized, “Oh dear, if I fall down, these two children can’t pick me up!” So she went BACK to her room and got the walker, which had her laptop sitting on the seat… then when they got back to the front of the house, she realized she didn’t have her purse, so Geneva ran back for it… finally they made it out to the front cage, but didn’t have the key for the security gate – and there were all kinds of people banging on the windows all this time, trying to let them know “Hey, your house is on fire!!!!”  It was Jacob who, calm as a cucumber throughout the entire event, went in and found the key and let the three of them out.  The fire department was there SO FAST – they are just a half mile from our house, thanks be to God – and commenced taking care of business.

After we finished talking with the investigator, we waited for an hour or so for the Red Cross to arrive, keeping company with the wonderful members of the emergency personnel, who had given us the chairs, water, and some snacks.  Geneva and Jacob had both been barefoot when they left the house, and they were given some flip flops that didn’t fit, so they were just feet-on-pavement all afternoon.

It’s a bit of a blur after that, but there was a lot of information from the Red Cross team (Bless them forever, they are the hands and feet of God!), and our dear neighbors John and Angie kept us comfortable, opened their house to us for whatever we needed, and I would have taken them up on their offer to sit inside were it not for the fact that it was an absolutely glorious day, with cool breezes and bright sunshine, as beautiful a day as you could ever ask for.

I was so surprised when the Fox News Van pulled up, I couldn’t figure out how they knew what was going on.  I soon learned they had actually had a helicopter above the house filming while the fire fighters were battling the blaze, and they were here to get some interviews.  Paul swooped in and saved the day so I didn’t have to talk on camera.  They interviewed him, Jacob, and Geneva, and then took a little tour inside the house.

Click here to watch the Fox News report.

Here are the pictures I took in the aftermath.



We were so thankful for our friends, where the girls had been working that afternoon.  They themselves had experienced a house fire a few years ago, and knew just what we were going through.  They told us to come over there for supper, and it was such a blessing to sit down and relax and have a delicious meal with friends in the midst of all the head-spinning confusion.  We were set up by our insurance company at a hotel with suites, that even took our dogs, so that was our destination after supper, though we did stop by the house once more to grab a couple of things we’d forgotten earlier.

And here we’ve been ever since, trying to sort out what is what.  Mom’s bedroom escaped any fire damage, thanks be to God, as did the girls’ bedroom, laundry room, and garage.  We’ve been able to retrieve some clothing for them, but Jacob’s room and our bedroom were hit hard, and we lost all our clothing and most of Jacob’s.  Although the ceiling came down in the whole main area, the firemen were able to protect most of the computers, so Paul has been working on getting the network back online.  We don’t have all of them yet, and his server will be down until we get into a house again, so my main blog, Nettie’s World, will be offline until that happens.

The house will probably require 4-6 months to repair/rebuild, so we’ll be in a rental house during that time.

I have been repeating the same thing over and over, ever since Wednesday… how blessed we are, to have all escaped with no harm, even the dogs.  All that stuff in the house, even the “irreplaceable” items, like an heirloom quilt, or my paintings… it’s all incidental.  We are fine, and we WILL be fine, and God is taking care of us at every step along the way.  Our church is helping us with meals, St. Vincent de Paul right away gave us some financial assistance, we have insurance, and we have had so many friends all across the country – and beyond – praying for us.  I have also opened up a Heidmann CafePress Online Store, which is one way for people far away, who have asked how they can help, to assist with the post-fire expenses.

So that’s where we are as we move into Sunday after a very eventful week in our family’s life.  And, to close, I want to include a poem that was posted on facebook by a dear friend, that is an absolutely beautiful expression by Anne Bradstreet of her response to a similar event.

Upon the Burning of Our House – July 10th, 1666
by Anne Bradstreet


In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow neer I did not look,
I waken’d was with thundring nois
And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice.
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my Distresse
And not to leave me succourlesse.
Then coming out beheld a space,
The flame consume my dwelling place.

And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dust:
Yea so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was his own: it was not mine;
Far be it that I should repine.

He might of All justly bereft,
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.

Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest;
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.

No pleasant tale shall ‘ere be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle ‘ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adieu, Adeiu; All’s vanity.

Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And didst thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.

Thou hast an house on high erect
Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent tho’ this bee fled.
It’s purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.

A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther’s wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.

Text notes:

Line 5: fire and fire, Fire! and Fire!
Line 11: beheld a space, watched for a time
Line 14: I blest his name that gave and took, see Job 1:21
Line 24: Sate, sat
Line 40: Arm of flesh, see 2 Chron. 32:8; Isa. 9:18-20; Jer. 17:4-7
Line 42: Dunghill mists, see Ezra 6:9-12.
Line 43: House on high erect, see 2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 11:10
Line 48: Enough to doe, ie. enough to do it
Line 52: Pelf, property, possessions
Line 54: Treasure lyes Above, see Luke 12:34


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