Monday, January 07, 2013

First Hand Account

This is my (Carol's) first hand account of the fire that destroyed our home of 18 years in November. This is long so I won't feel hurt if you don't read the whole thing! :) I'm planning on a general update on the fire recovery process tomorrow.

How the rest of our life started

I inhaled. I smelled smoke. I woke from my sleep. It was 3AM. I had gone to bed at 10PM rather late for me these days as a new mom. The baby had gone to sleep soundly early and I was enjoying making hair bows. This rare time with hands free to work on my own projects and be creative was too compelling to resign myself to slumber earlier. Seth was catching up on football on-line. We wondered if his favorite team would jump back to #2!

 I took another breath. "This is strong!" I thought to myself.  Smelling smoke wasn't too unusual. We live with wood burning neighbors so thanks to our leaky windows it's not uncommon to smell a whiff of "something" at night or during the day. I whipped off the blankets and switched on the lamp on the floor next to our mattress.  Seth and I had been staying during some of the summer months at 66 N. Main in an apartment Seth had fixed up for us. We had moved minimally moved back to 54 N. Main after the fall trip for the winter months because there was no heat at 66.

As soon as I switched the light I could see gray. Our room was turning gray.  I ran to my clothes basket to get another pair of pants and a fleece jacket and started yelling to Seth to wake up. "The house is on fire!" " We have to get out!" "Get Hannah up!"  I was hysterical and yelling. In my mind I had always thought "how can people in a fire run out of houses without their valuables??! If I'm ever in a fire I'll be sure to get my camera and laptop." I did not plan on the panic I would feel. It was a it's-not-in-my-face-so-I-can't-find-it-and-it-would-take-too-long-to-find-it feeling. Almost like a dream.  I could hardly see anything, and it wasn't because of the smoke.  I had packed a diaper bag for Joanna for the next day (we were planning to attend a friend's birthday party) and there it sat in front of me on the way out.  I never thought to grab it. I didn't think of shoes.  I saw the helpless little body of 3 month old Joanna lying on bed and my focus was all turned on making an exit.  As this was happening, my brain registered the voices of Dad and Mom who's room was across the hall. 


Their door shut. 

They were up.  

I placed Joanna on Seth's chest and wrapped her with a quilt from the bed.  We opened the door to the hallway to blackness. The front of the house had lost electricity. We didn't realize how smoky the stairway was until we started down.  It was thick and choking - much more intense then the smoke in the bedroom. I couldn't see as I grabbed the railing to guide myself down. I can't remember if my eyes were closed or not. Every time Seth went to grab the railing the blanket would slip from Joanna's head.  He walked down in the pitch darkness with both arms secure around Joanna, one step at time as fast as he dared.  The smoke was thicker up where he was. He was as I recall not being able to breath well.  The wooden railing, normally smooth and slick was dry with soot. We arrived on the street level hallway landing and in a few steps I found the front door. I unlocked it. Mom was right behind us. 

I ran in my socks to the basement apartment of 66 N. Main which Vincent, who had only moved in  2 weeks previous and yelled the house was on fire and to call 911. He told me later it took him a second to figure out it was 54 that was on fire and not HIS house.   :) Oops.

I ran back and remember screaming for Hannah to come out. Seth handed the baby back to me in case he had to go back in and rescue. Daniel had thought to go to the first floor and lead Papa out. I don't remember seeing them but vaguely coming off the side porch.  I remember seeing Matthew open his window trying to breath from the top floor. Smoke was pouring out of the small front basement window and the front door, but lots from the basement. I saw Hannah exit. Then I saw Dad exit. I heard the rattle of the parade porch door trying to be opened. Nathan and Matthew emerged from the doorway, going past a bookcase filled with albums of our baby photos we would never see again.  They moved quickly to the office roof.  It was about that time the first police car arrived.  I remember Dad wanted the boys to come down the stairs. The officer emphatically said no. A fire truck arrived with a ladder. The boys were safe. In the meantime the smoke kept pouring. Surely it would be out soon we thought as we scramble across the street taking sheltered at the neighbor's house. It was a cold November night. We could only see smoke still. We soon saw an orange "glow" in the front basement. I was very distraught as I saw no water anywhere. "Please save our house." Was my feeble cry from across the street.  The fire department had arrived but I hadn't seen a drop of water.  A fireball licked out the front door. No water.  At this point I just had to stop looking. It was too painful. I couldn't make any water appear and the people who were here to put it out hadn't.  Our house was going to burn. 

And, that was the start of the rest of our lives. Our post-fire life, that is. We had escaped with our lives by the grace and mercy of God and for that we are truly grateful. 


Blogger cali2carolina said...

Dear Ones,

We are so thankful to God for sparing your lives. Wow, cannot even imagine what that night was like for you all. Your account is breathtaking.

God bless you,
The Johnsons

2/13/2013 10:33 PM  

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