The Fire

In January, my house burned down. More or less.

 Shortly after the fire was put out.

Shortly after the fire was put out.

It's still standing, but they have to tear down the brick in the front, some of the support beams, part of the roof, and pretty much all of the inside.

 View from the garage up into Damien and Everett's room.

View from the garage up into Damien and Everett's room.

We lost just about everything, including our cars (parked in the garage), and our cats (I did not think to save them, and I will never forgive myself).

 What's left of the basement.

What's left of the basement.

But I don't really talk about it much. It was very upsetting to Damien and Everett, and it is, on some level, deeply upsetting to me, too. But I just don't go there in my mind. The loss of Atticus was still extremely fresh (6 days). I couldn't process another loss. I was, in fact, utterly convinced they were connected. That the one triggered the other, in some way. That by sorting through his baby clothes, boxes were left too close to the furnace. That in my absentmindedness, I left something on, or plugged too many things in. Or something. I almost got into a fight with the fire inspector during his final report (which, disturbingly, was interputed by him receiving alerts during our talk: first of a gunman at a local middle school, then that it was a bomb threat, and then finally that it was a prank. Apparently, that sort of thing happens often. I was horrified as he calmly sat there and told me he didn't need to leave.) I kept insisting that, even if I didn't directly cause it, surely they were connected.

But no.

 And to think, the insurance company declared these both a total loss after just 6 weeks!

And to think, the insurance company declared these both a total loss after just 6 weeks!

Here's what happened, as far as we know.

Around 1 pm, David brought Damien home from preschool. Everything was fine. He went to take a nap. I got Damien out of his coat, but left his shoes on, since we were supposed to meet my cousin and her kids at the children's museum and would need to leave soon. I sat on the couch with Everett and Damien, reading them a book about death and trying to work up the energy for our playdate. Maybe 15 minutes passed, full of grief and disbelief, as had been every minute of the previous 6 days. 

All of the sudden, I smelled smoke. I took a larger sniff, which prompted Damien to do so as well, and then he said he smelled smoke. I got up and walked down the hall to wake up David. I told him there was a fire. I also looked briefly in the boys' room, to see if the Scentsy melter in there had maybe tipped and caused whatever was going on. At around this point, I think, the smoke detector went off. By the time I was back in the living room, I could see the smoke. Maybe 20-30 seconds total had passed since I first smelled smoke. I put a coat on each of the boys (it was a very, very cold day) and David went down the stairs to see what he could see. He yelled up, "It's the furnace!" I put my coat on and grabbed Everett in my arms, and asked if I needed to call 911. David yelled "Yes!" I pulled my phone out of my pocket and called 911 while carrying Everett out and holding Damien's hand.

Unbelievably, I got a recording saying all operators were busy, and could I please hold. I did not think that was something that actually happens, but apparently it does. I took the boys across the street, still on hold, before the operator answered.

I did not put shoes on Everett. I did not grab my keys, much less my purse. I did not try to save anything. I did not tell David to leave the door open (he was behind us; I didn't even see him leave the house) for the cats. I did not think our house was actually going to burn down. I thought, I think, that the furnace would burn and the firefighters would put it out, and we'd go back inside in a few minutes.

 The stairway. I'm standing in the side door, which is the door I exited the house from with the boys.

The stairway. I'm standing in the side door, which is the door I exited the house from with the boys.

According to the investigators, the problem was not the furnace itself, but something in the wiring leading to the furnace. So, it was an electrical fire that spread through the wires. I knew vaguely about breaker boxes (like, that when the power goes out, you go see if a breaker has been tripped and if it has, you reset it, and that might fix everything), but somehow missed that their whole purpose was to prevent fire from spreading from one wire to another. Apparently, it is supposed to sense when a wire system is overloaded, and then trip the breaker, shutting off all power and minimizing damage. Our breaker box was so ridiculously destroyed that they felt that even the forensic analysts in DC who deal with terrorism stuff would not be able to tell if the breaker actually tripped or not. But, the inspector confided, although it's not in the report, he suspects from the speed everything spread and the level of destruction to the rest of the house's wiring, that it did not. The wiring was not up to code. It probably was when the house was built, but it sure wasn't now.

 A light switch by the side door, far from the actual source of the fire, but not from the wires.

A light switch by the side door, far from the actual source of the fire, but not from the wires.

And then, the furnace itself, gas-burning. Even my untrained eyes could see how the fire spread right through all the vents, the damage to each room was the worst above the vents and near the openings.

I didn't know all of this, of course, as I stood across the street, holding Everett in my left arm (my Atticus arm, forever empty of him) and Damien's hand in my right, my phone pressed to my ear with my shoulder. It was only when the 911 operator asked me if everyone was out that I remembered the cats. I think I probably could have given the boys to David and ran back across the street to open the door, at least. The fire was big but still mainly on the west side of the house (I think, from what we could see, anyway). But it honestly didn't occur to me. I just held onto them as tight as I could, my remaining children, and screamed at the operator that no, the cats were still inside.

And the fire spread and spread. And the firefighters didn't come. I don't know what happened. David called my mom at some point, and she made it to our house before the firefighters did. She lives 2-3 blocks closer to us (on the same route), but has no siren and I have no idea how fast she actually left her home. I doubt she was expecting to see what she saw when she got here. David took the boys and handed them off to my mom, because they were very upset. Our whole house was on fire, and I couldn't properly comfort them because I was still talking to 911. I told the operator, quite angrily, that they were not on their way after she reassured me that they were, because I knew exactly where the firestation was and my mom had already made it. She suggested they were coming from a different station. I finally heard sirens and saw them driving down the wrong street. And then they came, and I hung up.

 I didn't take any pictures during the actual fire. But there were 5-6 trucks plus police and EMTs as well.

I didn't take any pictures during the actual fire. But there were 5-6 trucks plus police and EMTs as well.

I calmed the boys down as best as I could, and then my mom took them back to her house. They didn't want to stay to watch the firemen put out the fire, which surprised me. I think I didn't grasp how truly upset they were, since I was in total shock.

By this time, there was quite a crowd. Several neighbors had gathered. The junior high across the way had let out, and all the kids walking home (or parents driving them) had seen, and many had stopped. I didn't find out until later, but the elementary school was put on lockdown and the kids weren't allowed to go to their afternoon recess. The firefighters were still doing stuff (after the fire looks to be out, they have to go inside and knock down the ceilings to make sure the insulation isn't burning, and check for other hot spots, and probably do all sorts of other things that I'm still ignorant about).

I remember calling my cousin and telling her our house was on fire, so we wouldn't be there. I remember crying to a neighbor, just saying over and over again that I'd lost Atticus's baby things. His baby book. His clothes. His toys. I'd given a few things to the funeral home (his current coat and shoes, some of his current favorite toys), but lost everything else. Everything. Of course I lost Damien and Everett's things as well, but I didn't feel that loss, and to be honest, I still haven't. His baby thing, I kept saying. His coming home outfit. His footprints. His baby things.

Atticus's Medicaid worker called, to get our monthly update on how the pilot waiver program was working. The poor man, I yelled at him that Atticus was dead and he should never, never call me again. It wasn't his fault. He had no way of knowing. He was just doing his job. It was awful timing.

I called one of my best friends, who lives in New York and was due with twins the day before I was due wth Atticus and Damien. Incomprehensibly, her baby A, precious Karina, died in utero five days after my boys had come early. She had been my best source of comfort after losing Atticus, and I knew she would understand the depth of losing all of his things, since she has so few things of Karina's.

 Atticus's handprint, which I had left at the hospital the night It Happened. Thank goodness.

Atticus's handprint, which I had left at the hospital the night It Happened. Thank goodness.

And now I'm going through the list of contents in our house, which is what prompted this blog entry. However, I feel I've rambled long enough (and I'm emotionally drained), so I'll break this into two parts, and talk more about all the Things and how it's hitting me now, more than two months later. (Spoiler alert: hard. It is hitting me hard.)