When I first thought about starting a blog, I knew that one of the topics I would one day write about was the night our home started on fire in August of 2017. I wanted to share with others what we learned from this experience in hopes that it might save a home or a family one day. Somewhat surprisingly though, once I had the blog up and running, I could not bring myself to write about it. Honestly, it scared me. The emotions associated with the fire run deep for me. It is easier to just keep them packed away, then to revisit them.
This week it is the 3-year anniversary since the fire, so I am finally going to push myself to do it. I hope you find this insightful and helpful. I hope that when you are done reading this, you will re-evaluate your family’s fire plan and be sure to take as many precautions as possible to keep your homes and families safe.
August 22, 2017: 2:30 am- “MOM! DAD! MOM! DAD!” Sleeping with foam earplugs in because of my husband’s snoring, I could faintly hear the screaming coming from my kids. I was sound asleep and confused at what was happening. My initial thought was “Someone must be throwing up from the stomach flu.”. I was slowly waking up when I noticed that my husband Scott, had bolted out of bed. He was out the door in an instant and I thought “That is weird, he doesn’t usually fly out of bed when one of the kids gets sick in the middle of the night. This must be bad. I better check it out.”
As I left our bedroom, walked through the office, and into the foyer, I saw a scene I never in my wildest imagination thought I would see. Our three children were standing at the top of the stairs, as my husband flew past them and down the stairs screaming, “Where is the fire extinguisher? Where is the fire extinguisher?” He was in a state of total and utter panic. I was still half asleep, so it took me a second to register what he was even asking me. My brain fog finally cleared enough to say “It is in the laundry room.” (Right where Scott and I had mounted it on the wall, 2 years earlier, but in a moment of complete fear you cannot think straight!) Scott was off and running to the laundry room, as my kids stood frozen at the top of the stairs with looks of terror on their faces. I yelled to Scott, “Do I need to call 911?” and he quickly responded “YES!”.
The kids informed me there was a fire in our 17-year-old son’s bedroom. I immediately told all three kids to get the dogs and to get outside. I took off running towards the kitchen to look for a phone, as Scott zoomed past me with the fire extinguisher, heading back upstairs. I tripped and fell because of the panic I was feeling on the way into the kitchen. I got up, swiftly grabbed the phone, dialed 911, and paused briefly to decide if I should grab anything like family pictures. I stood looking at the massive amounts of photo albums on my shelf and felt overwhelmed at which to grab. For some reason, the decision to grab even one of them was too difficult to make at that moment and what instead popped into my head was, “Put on a bra.”
I know that seems like a crazy choice, but it is the truth of what I decided to grab in that instant. I realized I wasn’t wearing one underneath my pajamas and in minutes there would be strange firemen all over my home. So very quickly, as I was talking to the 911 operator, I ran to my bedroom (Luckily located on the first floor) and put on a bra. Once I had it on, I ran for the front door. There I found my three kids standing, holding our dogs in their hands, barefoot, in their pajamas, (Nate just in boxer shorts) on our front walkway. I stood there and watched my husband come in and out of a dark, billowy cloud of smoke on the second floor of our home, as he tried to get the fire extinguisher to work and extinguish the fire.
I finished up my phone call with 911, as Scott suddenly made his way down the stairs, and out the front door with black soot all over his face— gasping for air. He and I stood on the front porch, as our children stood silent, in the dark, in shock, on the walkway, staring at us. With our fire alarms going off, and more black smoke making its way into the foyer, Scott finally caught his breath and shared with me that he had gotten the fire in Nate’s bedroom from a rolling fire across the ceiling, to a low smoldering fire on the floor.
It was at this point that we hit a crossroads. Scott began to say he wanted to go back into the house and try to put out the rest of the fire. He felt he could make that happen if he had another shot at it. I remember standing there with my left arm holding our screen door closed and considering what he had asked of me. For some reason, I felt a total calm wash over me and I told Scott “No, it is not safe or smart.” He began to cry and plead with me, saying “We are going to lose EVERYTHING! Kerry—PLEASE! I can do this! We are going to lose everything we have ever worked for!” I again considered what he had said, and for a second, I thought about letting him go back in the house. But looking at the black smoke, I remembered what we have all heard so often, “Never go back into a burning building.” I looked at Scott, our kids, and our dogs and felt total peace, knowing that we were all safe. Scott continued to plead with me for a while longer—which broke my heart because it is hard to watch your husband cry and be so vulnerable. I continued to say, “No, No, No.” Scott finally relinquished and I am so thankful he did. It still haunts me to this day, when I think about “What if he had gone back in? Would he have made it out alive?” I know God was watching over us at that moment. He provided me with a calm demeanor and He provided Scott with the ability to let go of his pride and listen to his wife.
After making the decision to walk away from our home, our family moved to our neighbor’s driveway two houses away for safety’s sake. Our three children reacted in three completely different ways. Nate our 17-year-old started running down the street screaming, because he thought he had somehow started the fire. Lyla our middle child sat quiet as can be, and Chloe our youngest who was about to start 4th grade, stood, looking straight ahead at what seemed like nothing and cried as I have never seen a child cry before. I remember desperately trying to calm her down, but finding there was nothing I could do to stop her from her intense wailing. I felt completely helpless. There was nothing I could do to soothe my child. It is a moment I will never forget as I knew she had been traumatized. So with Nate running and screaming, Lyla sitting still, and Chloe crying uncontrollably, we waited for the firemen to arrive. It honestly seemed like forever. I recall thinking, “We are going to watch our house burn to the ground tonight.” The whole thing felt like an out of body experience.
Finally, the police arrived, followed by the firefighters and paramedics. The firefighters got to work immediately and we quickly asked the paramedics to look at Nate for a large burn he had suffered on his leg. Luckily, they were able to treat it on the scene and told us he was going to be okay. A neighbor came outside to help and had a conversation with Scott about what was happening. Thankfully, she had the sense of mind to notify the paramedics that Scott needed to be checked out. I was so busy, trying to take care of the kids and dogs that I had not paid any attention to Scott and/or any injuries he may have suffered. While Scott was being checked, family arrived to pick up the kids and the dogs. It was very hard to let the kids go, as I was worried sick about them, but we knew it was best for them to leave. I said my goodbyes and then headed back to the ambulance to check on Scott.
Scott looked rough as he laid on the stretcher. The paramedics informed me that his blood pressure was skyrocketing, he had burns to his face and he was having trouble breathing from all the smoke inhalation. They said he would need to go to the hospital for a more thorough treatment. I asked if I should ride along, and they said “No. We will be taking him to the burn unit downtown so you can meet him there.” Scott told me I should stay at the house until the firemen were done and then head to the hospital.
I did as he asked and waited for the firemen to finish up. I can remember a few things from that time. I talked to a lot of firemen, informing me of what was happening and what my next steps would need to be. (I was happy with my earlier decision to put on a bra while having those conversations. Ha!Ha!) I remember that my feet were cut up on the bottom from walking so much on the street and wishing I had shoes to wear. I remember how grateful I was when the firemen eventually extinguished the fire and knowing that our home was going to make it. I remember the very kind older man, who showed up from the Red Cross at 4:30 a.m. to deliver us care packages of toothbrushes, soap, toothpaste, and a gift card to get a hotel and food. I remember the fireman who walked me through the house around 5:30 a.m. He held a flashlight for me, gave me one garbage bag, and told me to grab only the most necessary items. I remember the smell, the water damage, the black soot all over the walls, the broken glass, and the darkness from the electricity no longer working. I could not believe this was my life.
After the fire was out, I drove downtown to see Scott in the hospital and was thankful when he was released later that evening. He did have 2nd and 3rd degree burns on his face, but he was going to be okay. We lived in a hotel for the next week and then moved to an apartment with rented furniture for about 4 months while our house was being rebuilt. It was a very dark time and I most certainly was depressed, along with the rest of our family. With the help of God, a loving family, and amazing friends, we somehow made it through. I hope none of you ever have to experience a fire in your home, but in the chance that it would happen, here is what I want you to know.
- YOU MUST HAVE A FIRE EXTINGUISHER IN YOUR HOME! Do not think, “It won’t happen to me.”
- Have a fire extinguisher on every floor of your home. One is not enough. The speed at which fire spreads is mind-blowing. A minute makes a huge difference. If we had, had an extinguisher upstairs, by Nate’s bedroom, I am certain we would have had less damage.
- Remind yourself throughout the days and weeks where your fire extinguishers are located. Believe me, in the heat of the moment (pun intended), it is hard to think straight. Make sure every family member in your house knows where the extinguishers are located and how to use them.
- Have a fire plan. Make sure every family member knows what to do in case of a fire. Pick a place outside of the home where you will meet in case of a fire.
- Be sure to get out of the house as quickly as possible. Smoke damage to the lungs happens quickly and it is real. Scott struggled and coughed for weeks after the fire.
- Do not go back into a burning building ever!! Let the professional firefighters deal with it.
- Our fire was started by two electrical cords, caught under the frame of Nate’s bed, that eventually frayed and ignited. Check your cords throughout your home, religiously.
- Buy a fire ladder if you have bedrooms on the second floor of a home. Decide where it will be kept, make sure you have a plan for it and that all family members know how to use it.
- Fires often start in dishwashers, dryers, and dehumidifiers. Do not leave these running when you are not home to monitor.
- Check your fire extinguishers and smoke detectors on a regular basis. Checking them on birthdays or holidays, to remind yourself is a great idea!
I hope that by sharing the story of the night our home started on fire, you will begin thinking about fire safety in your own home. Since our fire, we have had two separate families reach out to us, who had home fires but had extinguishers they purchased after they heard our story—which saved their homes. One of the fires was in a dishwasher and one was in an outdoor grill.
Tomorrow, in my weekly newsletter, I will be sharing some links for items we recommend for fire safety. If you are a regular subscriber you will receive this newsletter. If you have not yet subscribed to the blog, be sure to do so now, so you can get this information. Each Friday, subscribers receive one email from me that highlights the new blog post for the week and other bits of information I hope you will find useful. You can subscribe easily by going to my blog home page and entering your name and email address where it says “Bring joy to your inbox.”
Thanks for reading our story and please bless us by reviewing your fire safety protocol today! Also, feel free to share this post on social media or with friends and family whom you think may benefit from it.