Imagine being at home, 4:30 in the afternoon, with your family. Lazy day, doing laundry, taking naps, and some playing outside. All of a sudden you smell smoke. It’s strong enough to smell but it hasn’t set off your smoke detectors yet. It doesn’t smell like your normal burnt meal, a bbq coming through an open window, but maybe more like a bonfire? You start trying to track it down to find it coming from your laundry room. It’s heavy and overwhelming with a few visible flames. You grab the fire extinguisher just a few steps away and start using it. Just like that the flames get worse. They have now basically erupted to the ceiling and the walls are completely engulfed. You drop the extinguisher and start yelling for everyone to get out. In the time it takes you to get from the back of the house, through the kitchen and dining room, and outside to call 911, the fire has moved so fast it has followed you through these rooms and taken all of these walls. There is your everything, burning and disappearing, and there isn’t anything you can do but watch. This is what happened to my parents home July 1st if this year. Gratefully, my parents and 2 of my 5 brothers, who lived with them to help with the home, as well as the family dog, made it out alive. We did, unfortunately, lose 2 beloved cats, but the adults were okay. All they had were literally the clothes on their back and whatever was in their pockets. One of my brothers only wearing basketball shorts and Sandals. Not realizing how bad it was or what was going on, no one had time to grab their car keys, 2 of them were without their cell phones. None of them their wallets. Their entire life was in that house. It took 21 fire departments almost 7 hours to battle the fire. They worked to not only save what they could of the house and belongings but keep the fire from taking out the several trees that hang over the house and several bushes around it that were scorched. They have horses and fields behind their home as they live a few miles outside of town. Without access to fire hydrants, all the water had to be brought in and replenished.
To begin, as many people have asked why there were so many fire departments, a firefighter only has enough oxygen to be used for so long before an alarm goes off notifying them they are out. As my cousin, who is on the Ripon Fire Department explained, if one is out, it is best to all leave together. They then have to go into a waiting ambulance to be checked out and monitored to make sure they are okay. But they then need someone to take over battling that fire and running for water. Someone has to be at the station in case another fire happens in the city while you are at this one, people to be refilling oxygen tanks while the fireman is being checked out and rehydrated. 7 hours of this. They also needed to be fed and cycled through checks for heat exhaustion. Many were pages during dinner maybe not eating since lunch. Seriously, thank your local service providers. Fireman, First Responders, Paramedic/EMTs, Sheriffs and Police, and of course the Red Cross, and Doctors and Nurses who care for them all. They battled this blaze also in over 100-degree weather that day. This is one of the many things that went wrong but out of their control. They also had to come back the next morning, while we were walking the property with the Fire Chief and inspector as the house was still so hot from the fire and the outside temps, that it started on fire again. This time, they were only there another 2 hours.
Things that we lost that were crucial, expensive, and/or difficult to replace: my stepdad is diabetic. He lost his tester, all of his medicine and insulin that was just refilled by insurance and any records that were paper. My dad has sleep apnea. His C-Pap machine was lost in the fire. All of their hunting rifles and guns were lost. This also causes a problem for the fire department due to the ammunition that can go off. The fireworks to be used in 4 days, Again, causing issues for the fire department as they set off with the fire. The little book kept next to the computer with all their logins and passwords were lost as well. Here is what we were able to salvage. 3 vehicle keys, 3 of the 4 wallets, both cellphones which somehow still work but could have easily been destroyed based on the items around them. Some important family pictures and hopefully bookshelves that my dad had made in high school. Some blankets that my grandma had made for us over our lifetime including the last one that she made before passing away last spring. The American Flag that my brother had flown in Iraq while stationed there a few years ago. He gave each of my parents one when he came home. Side note: the miraculous thing on the last blanket my grandma made and the flag is that they were untouched by the fire, other than smoke smell the room and everything around it was black and unable to be saved. They were able to retrieve a fire safe with some family documents and a few USBs that were being worked with to scan and save my grandmas family photo albums. A checkbook, a few computer towers that we are still waiting to hear back on, along with those USBs if they can be saved or at least anything retrieved. In our back family room, besides a few pictures and books, was a pool table that is what you would find in a Billiard or bar and would cost way more to clean than replace due to smoke smell and water damage. We pulled out some clothes and winter jackets that looked like they hadn’t been scorched but were told that the smell is very difficult to remove and do not count on them to be usable. That is all that they can start over with. My dad is 61 years old. Think of everything you can collect in that time, gone. Your children’s cap and gowns and diplomas. Your pictures and irreplaceable mementos of your lifetime. I had my hope chest there from middle school and high school. My varsity letter certificates, my awards, and yearbooks, some photos that I stored from throwing up, all gone.
What went wrong? You can do everything right and still have a fire, that is a fact. Here is how to try to make those possibilities as minimal as possible. The fire started in the dryer. While my dad cleans the lint trap and hose religiously, things people don’t realize or think of is that you have to clean that hose that leads from your dryer to the outside. Check it regularly, make sure there is no build up, and replace as needed. Also, make sure that on the outside, you have some sort of mesh to allow the hot air and lint out but also to keep animals from getting in. Because there is so little left, it’s hard to tell exactly what caused the dryer to go but their guess is that it was wiring that had gone bad, as the dryer was over 10 years old or the outside animal option as there were some remains found in that area. The fire had moved so fast though that it melted the wires to the smoke detectors just outside the laundry room before they could go off. So make sure you test them regularly but also be sure to have more than one in those areas. Maybe one in your laundry room and one outside of it. Carbon monoxide detectors are also something to invest in. The Fire Chief said that they see more and more calls for these issues and in some cases, you get so sick you don’t realize there is a problem until there is one. Did you know that besides your hose and regular lint trap, there is actually a panel on the back or front, depending on your dryer, that should also be taken off regularly and cleaned out? These compartments can actually collect lint and over time can build up and ignite due to the dryer heat. Exhaust fans are also another big one that people forget to clean regularly. Make sure that they are check and inspected for any potential problems. They too can get built up with dust and debris causing the motor to overheat and start fires. Check your fire extinguisher and if you do not have one, get one. Make sure you know how to use it. It’s not actually a pull the pin and shoot device. Read the label, talk to your family and make sure they know how to use it and where it is. Also, fire extinguishers will not last forever. Although they do not all have an expiration date listed, most can range from 5-15 years. It is recommended to check the pressure monthly and if it is getting old and needs to be replaced do it. A good suggestion is to make that disposing of the old a good time to practice using it and showing family members what to do before disposing of it. Of course, check your local recycling centers on how they want them properly disposed of. Know your meeting place and how to get out is another big one. Yes, these were 4 adult and able body humans but do you have kids? When was the last time you discussed it with them? Was it when they came home and asked where the meeting place is after the fire department was at their school? Practice leaving the houses. Do it every time you check your smoke alarms. Make sure your child or family can reach their bedroom windows, know how to open it, and how to get out from there if needed. It’s also good to discuss what to do if they can’t get out. Visit open houses with them at the fire department so they can see these men and woman in full turn out gear so they don’t get scared and hide. Remind them to call out if they do get stuck in the house and to stay low. Have a plan and make sure that all babysitters are also aware of all the exits and where the fire extinguisher is and numbers to reach you as well as your meeting place. Tell your neighbors and/or family when you are leaving for an extended time so they can watch the house and know to call 911 if needed. Invest in a fireproof safe. Put a spare set of car keys, your birth certificate, social security card, marriage certificates, wills and deeds in there. Look around your home tonight, what is important to you, what is your plan? Make sure all valuables are listed on your insurance, take pictures and use a cloud back up service for receipts and appraisals. Itemize those heavier cost items. If you don’t have renters insurance, look into it. May you never have to use it but if you do, it will be worth every penny. Even if you live at home, if you are over 25, not everything on your parent’s homeowners policy will cover your belongings. Overwhelmed by this? I get it. Here are some great ways to help ease that feeling. With the increase in smartphones, use your phone calendar to set reminders to check these things, monthly, quarterly, etc. while adding it to the calendar, make sure that it shows your email is the calendar it is saved to instead of your phone so that as you upgrade and change your phone, those reminders will come right along. You can also view them and add them from your computer when you check your emails.
Do the same when you buy a new fire extinguisher or device with an expiration date or warranty. Put a reminder in that calendar for that few years out but a month before so that way you know it’s time to start looking at the cost to invest in a new one and what is a better option at that time. I am happy to help if you have questions on the calendar reminders as it can be confusing and you want to be sure you have it.
I know this was long winded and the if you have more questions please let me know but this isn’t just another safety reminder. This is your life, it’s your everything. It can be the difference between starting over and minimal damage. Here are some pictures from the fire. I also have attached some pictures of family time in the home and an angle after the fire.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and know that the outpouring of support and donations has been overwhelming but so appreciated. While yes, they have places to stay thanks to having 6 children, insurance takes a very long time to replace most of your basic needs. Red Cross can only offer so much as well. We are a strong family and are counting our blessings every day!