It was Saturday night around 11pm, January 20th, 2018. We were heading toward bedtime, although Davin was the only one actually asleep. Jaron was in his room, Lianne and I were in our room, Ava was getting ready for bed. The power went out. Jaron noticed it immediately because his gaming computer shut down. His cry of frustration could be heard throughout the house. He and Ava quickly came into our room to ask what was going on. We looked out of our bedroom window and saw that the neighbors had power, which was unusual given that our power was out. There were no high winds or crazy storms in the area either, which was also unusual. So, Jaron and I decided to head to the garage to check on the circuit breaker. He pulled out his phone, flicked it twice to activate the flashlight, and I followed him across the house. He opened the door out to the garage and immediately said, “Dad, this isn’t good. There’s a lot of smoke.”
We rushed into the garage, he was ahead of me. As we rounded the corner to look at the circuit breaker we could hear and see the flames in the wall behind it. I immediately started looking for the fire extinguisher, yelling for Lianne to help me find it. Jaron asked if he should get a hose or something, I told him to check out back. At this point, my plan was to put the fire out. I was convinced I could put it out before it got out of hand. It was so dark in the garage that it took me a few moments to find the extinguisher. I finally did, and yelled to Lianne again to call 9-1-1. My adrenaline was pumping. I pulled the tab on the extinguisher, pointed it at the fire, and squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. I read the instructions. I shook it a little. I squeezed the trigger again, and a little white powder dribbled out. Jaron ran back into the garage with a bucket of water and said he couldn’t find the hose. We looked up and the bee hive boxes stored on the shelf above the circuit breaker were starting to catch fire. With a sinking feeling in my stomach I desperately tried the fire extinguisher one more time. Nothing. I grabbed the bucket of water, tossed it onto the fire and screamed at Lianne and the kids to grab something and get out. I’d guess that about a minute had passed since we saw the smoke in the garage. Lianne was on the phone with 9-1-1 and she had to wake Davin up, but she got everyone out.
There was a moment, right then, when I realized I wasn’t capable of putting this fire out. I went from confidence to hopelessness, from determination to despair, within a fraction of a second. I’m reliving it now as I write this … it’s an ache right above my stomach, but below my rib cage. It doesn’t feel good. There was nothing I could do but get out, get the family out, and wait for help.
Some time in there I had the presence of mind to pull the van out of the garage. The garage door must have had a battery backup because Jaron opened it for me. Lianne and the kids were out front, and I was going back in to get the other car when Lianne or someone told me not to. The garage was filled with smoke, but there wasn’t much fire inside. Outside was a different story. The fire swept upward, looking for air. The attic above the garage was our storage space, and it was filled with stuff, kindling type of stuff. Flames were shooting out of the attic into the night sky. I left the car and ran around back to check on the chickens, you can see me the picture below heading back there. The brick wall of the house prevented the fire and heat from getting to them. They looked fine. I ran back toward the front of the house as the fire trucks rolled up. I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes.
There was Jaron, standing in the front yard with his arms wrapped around Ava, and his head bent toward her comforting her as she cried. Oh man … that visual vignette broke my heart. I’m supposed to prevent this type of thing from happening to my family. It’s my job to protect them from fear and hurt and pain. I felt like I had failed them. There we were, straggled across the yard and street, watching our house burn. I wasn’t sad about the house, or the stuff in it, or even the situation we were in. I was sad because I was not able to prevent it. Emotions often override reason, and I still feel that sadness even though I know that I did my best, and that it wasn’t my fault. Any time your family hurts, you hurt. That’s just the way it is.
The fire department concentrated on the garage first, but by the time they started tamping it down on that side, it flared up on the other side of the house. It walked the attic, feeding off the ridge vent, and the vents on the far side of the house. I turned away then because I knew the house was gone. I couldn’t watch. There were multiple ladder trucks, and fire departments from 3 different cities on scene. They went into the house, tearing up the ceiling and attacking the fire from inside as well as out. We watched with our neighbors, from their driveway across the street. The same way we had stood in our driveway and watched that very house burn down 10 years ago. Our house seemed to burn forever, the flames shooting out of either side of the attic, the garage completely caved in, and the crowd of neighbors offering to help, bringing us shoes and coats, and hugs.
Once the fire was out, they gave us an opportunity to go into the house and grab a few personal belongings. They needed to foam the house with some type of fire retardant to prevent it from starting back up, and apparently it is very corrosive. We went first for our photo albums and old family videos. They were mostly unscathed. That was what we were concerned with the most because they could not be replaced. We also grabbed some clothes, and the firemen pulled out some electronics. We couldn’t think of anything else that was critical, so we said goodbye to the house and walked out the door. I wonder now if that was the last night we’ll spend in the house we lived in for over 20 years.
That’s the end of this chapter of the story. There are other perspectives. Lianne and the kids saw and felt things too. In the aftermath I’ve thought about my faith, my life, and the importance of family. I’ll save those stories for another time.
On that night, we headed to Pearsalls, blessed to have a safe refuge with family. We got to bed after 2am, maybe later. We were exhausted, but unharmed.