Fire Update

This is an update of what’s going on with the fire and my family’s situation.

First of all, the response from people out there has been amazing. Many friends have called me up and almost everyone from town has stopped by offering help or bringing toddler toys for Kennedy, my niece. Added to this are the great people that I know from the blogs who are emailing and telling me their thoughts. More on them later though.

Yesterday we talked to our contractor and architect and they are probably going to tear down the rest of the structure, down to the foundation maybe, and start over again. In the meantime my parents are deciding between renting a house in the area or getting a trailer put on the property. They decided that it would be best for me to take over my grandparent’s old house which has not been used since last year. This requires a great deal of running around as it is completely empty.

After a day I feel very much the same as I did before. I am always thinking about how I’d like to streamline or how I shouldn’t really feel like I need the things that I do own. So I am seeing this more as an opportunity to do things right the next time around and focus more on that which enriches my life and mind, as opposed to just providing some convenience and minute satisfaction at purchase time. This seems to be the consensus amongst my parents as well, but of course it is a very unfortunate way to go about doing it.

I’m not worried at all about getting by however. Our insurance policy is very good and we have hired a insurance claim lawyer to make sure things work smoothly and to our benefit. We have so much family in the area that we’ll get by just fine. And on top of this, I have all these great friends who care. So, don’t feel like you should put money in Lisa’s PayPal fund–although it’s a great thought.

Blogospheric Response

One person emailed and told me about what I wrote made their day much brighter. You see, they had a big problem at work and it seems as though they suggested that they had been fired or something to that effect. They told that reading my story made them realize what they should really be happy for and care about–what can be gone and replaced in an instant and what really lasts. This remark was made be many who thought it would be “trite”, “annoying”, or “cliché” to say though. I think that this sort of thing only becomes “trite” when a true feeling becomes repeated ad nauseum in bad movies and terrible books. People really are what counts.

Dan was reminded about how he should prepare for a fire. As did Jacob Martin.

Bob Stepno was a bit weirded out that Google put advertisements for smoke alarms and fire extinguishers on the bottom of the page.

Boston Common tried to push out the story. As did Dave Winer. And Cory Doctorow.

Grant Henninger remarked on how strange it is that we feel close to those that we interact with on the Internet. I feel the same. It’s very nice though. Some of the best introductions I’ve had in my entire life have been made as a result of blogging.

Doug Miller points out a spooky coincidence:

I’m glad to hear that everyone is alright. Jay is sounding philosophical about his lost stuff, but this still has to suck.

In a spooky coincidence, we had a severe storm here yesterday, as well. At one point, there was a lightning strike so close that we actually heard the sizzle of the electricity prior to hearing the boom of the thunder. We scrambled around, checking things, trying to make sure nothing had been shorted out or was on fire. Not more than a minute afterwards, I opened up Net News Wire and there was Jay’s post about his home being struck by lightning.

Counting Sheeps remarked on the sound of the thunderstorm that same night.

Last night for the first time in my life I now know what they meant when the used to tell children that the angels were bowling when a thunderstorm passed through.

It literally sounded like a ball hitting a wooden floor and rolling for a distance and then a final crack at the end like the pins had been hit by a perfect strike and scattered down the hole.

For a girl who *loves* thunderstorms it was spectacular. It went around and around for about a half an hour. They seemed to call back and forth from west to east and then one from the north and then around again.

Julie Leung relates her experience of a fire and I join her in saying, Thank God I have all these great friends who are alive and well.

The closest I’ve come to something like this happened when our van caught fire last summer. I remember calling Ted from my cell phone to tell him “The van is on fire.” Yes, I tried to say it as calm as I could. I did feel mostly calm. But it was strange. Strange to stand there on the sidewalk with Abigail and watch our van burn. Strange to wonder what would have happened if I had kept my head turned a few moments more or decided to keep driving despite the smoke. Strange to think how easily our lives could have ended in an ordinary way, while driving the van to the grocery store with my little girl. Abigail still talks about it. For a while she and her sister would point to pictures in the newspaper saying “This is what we’re going to buy when our new van catches on fire…”

Later, Julie also wrote about friendship:

A commercial for AAA came on the air. It was supposed to be funny. It was supposed to be about friendship. In the ad, one friend offers to another that if his car breaks down, he’ll pick him up. But then, this friend makes multiple excuses why he isn’t available…most of the time. AAA then emphasizes that friends aren’t reliable. Friends are flaky. So buy AAA for those tough times.

In the mood I was feeling, this commercial made me mad. What is friendship if you can’t call me in the middle of the night and ask me to pick you up when your car breaks down? What is friendship if it isn’t during the tough times? What are friends for? Is it money that makes a relationship?

Richard Tallent remarked about how a fire was his worst nightmare as a kid.

I couldn’t help but smile just a little when he recounted how he grabbed two things on his way out the door: his pants and his computers. I know I would have done the same thing. Fire insurance could replace almost everything except my “bits” (I’m talking about the computers, not the pants, though both I suppose apply). Family photos, financial records, personal correspondance: we certainly have a lot more of these than 100 years ago. Of course, back then, “fire insurance” meant getting a fire truck to come by rather than being able to replace a house.

Other Linkers

Thanks so much everyone.

Fire, Fire, House on Fire

It is 7:08 AM on Sunday, May 23rd 2004. I am sitting in my car behind my burning house. Just about two hours ago my house was struck by lighting and I woke up to the sound of the fire alarms. Although, at the time I did not know about the lighting.

As I waited in bed for the alarms to go off, I thought about how annoying it is when this happens. For some reason over the past few months they have turned on a few times, it never really happened before so I wasn’t used to the deafening sound.

I heard my parents walking around and I assumed that they were trying to turn them off. I wasn’t sure how this was done so I didn’t think anything was amiss about it taking so long.

About 5 or 10 minutes later I started smelling smoke and heard my dad looking in the attic outside my room. It was now he started screaming, “The house is REALLY on fire. Get anything you can and get out!” He said this as he walked down the stairs and when he came back in after putting something outside.

I was a bit panicked and shaken but I grabbed my backpack and threw my computers in it and put on some pants. I should have probably put on the pants with my wallet in them, but for some reason I didn’t. And I should have probably got a jacket as well seeing as it is so cold now.

Once I was outside I started to account for everyone else. My parents and Steph accounted for and my parents were going back into the first floor to get stuff out. This wasn’t filled with smoke as the second floor was so it felt somewhat safe. I didn’t go back in though.

During the rush one of them must have called 911 or the fire department because I could hear the engines and police sirens in the distance but they were not here yet. They would be soon.

The police officer started asking a few questions, making sure we were all outside and about where the fire started. This information was relayed to the first two Dunstable fire trucks who got there as they dismounted and started trying to get the hoses ready.

My neighbors from down the street later said that they could hear them screaming, “We don’t have any pressure, we need water pressure, it’s going up!” These were the words of one of the first men who pulled out houses and went to the front of the house to shoot it with water.

The next hour and a half consisted of watching smoke pour out of every orifice of the house and listening to the occasional breaking of glass from the heat and from the high powered water blasts. After a while, maybe twenty or thirty minutes, we could see fire through the windows and through some holes in the top portion of the house.

These small fires became large and at one point I was no longer cold. The central fire, probably twenty to twenty-five feet in diameter, in the top middle of my attic had burned through the roof and was providing a heat and light that made it feel like a warm summer morning.

This spectacle was occasionally interrupted by things such as a dog needing to be put away; a police officer complaining about my parents grabbing stuff out of their office in the basement; the crash of a beam or window inside the house; or, the arrival of another fire truck from another town–Tyngsboro, Groton, and Pepperall were all in attendance.

Watching fire fighters fight fires is rather disheartening. It often seems as if they are doing very little–just spraying a fire that refuses to go out or making sure the hoses don’t get tied or stopped. The fire chief told my father that had they sent anyone up to the attic with a personal fire extinguisher, he probably would have died.

After this hour and a half, however, the fire started to be within their control and they started passing out water, coffee, and donuts while preparing a second team to go in and remove debris and check for stability of the structure.

One of my neighbors was very kind and gave me his jacket and we talked about his son and where he is going to school. I haven’t talked to this man probably since a Halloween in grade school or at some baseball game with his son, whom I never really hung out with much.

In the end, if at this moment when there is no more fires and merely charred wood I can surmise the end, the attic seems to be completely gone as well as the ceiling of the second floor. From the other side of the house we looked in and saw my room filled with black and smoke while the room next to it still have a TV perfectly intact inside a cabinet. I imagine that first floor and the basement are just filled with smoke and water, but I haven’t been inside to check.

Having your house burn in front of you is a very strange experience. It has only been a few hours and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I certainly do not approve of it, but my level of disappointment as not yet been ascertained. This is likely to be a combination of it not yet really setting in that yes, your room is in fact gone, yes all your stuff with it. But now I don’t actually know that do I? I am merely guessing this.

Part of me is thinking of a large forest that needs the occasional fire and purge to clear of the old generation and replenish the soil or however that works. (I only know this from a discussion about why forest fires as so bad now–basically they didn’t allow the little fires years ago so now those little ones aggregate.) So if my house and my stuff are like a forest, then maybe this a chance to do… something?

However cliché it is, I cannot help but think of Fight Club, when Jack’s apartment blows up and he loses everything. He says something to the effect of, “When you buy that new IKEA sofa, you think to yourself: Right, now that I have that sofa situation worked out, no matter what happens I’ll have the sofa covered.” I said very much the same thing a few weeks ago when I bought something relatively expensive but that would probably last, I said, “A hundred dollars for something I’m going to use every day of the rest of my life isn’t such a big deal, is it?”

I called Amanda and let her know what was going on and said to her that this will probably change my outlook on life for quite some time. Even now, before it has even really set in and before I’ve had a chance to fully comprehend what happened I’m thinking of ways I may run my life differently. Silly things like, maybe it isn’t so important to save the box that my Apple computer came in, or maybe I should just read books at a library rather than saving them so that they rot away on a shelf. I feel a very New-Age-lame feeling about the impermanence of material possessions.

This and a few others thought about how I’m going to replace some of the stuff I lost. Like, will I find an alarm clock that wakes me up as effectively as the one I’ve had since grade school? Or, do I really need this or that, etc.

This part of the post ended at 7:43 AM when I heard a crash and started paying more attention to the house.

It is now 5:25 PM and I am sitting in my cousin’s room at my aunt’s house. The whole top two floors of my house are gone. The rest of the house is flooded and damaged by smoke. I went into my room to sift around a bit and managed to take out my passport and my other computer from about a foot of debris–ash and soot.

After some wandering around, Amanda came over and we went to the mall so I could get new clothes. It is very strange, because right now I could hold everything I own on my person.

So, blogging may be light and I may not get back to emails quickly. Additionally, I probably lost any emails that were sent last night.


Jay McCarthy