Everybody has a fire story (36)

What's left of the kitchen & dining room

When you go through an important event, especially a loss, it’s almost as if you become a member of an exclusive new club. Everyone who has had a similar experience shares it with you. When I suffered a miscarriage, many people I had known for years revealed their own miscarriage experiences to me for the first time, including my own mother. The same thing happened after I had the fire at my house. Friends, colleagues, even strangers told me stories about their house fires. Who knew it was so common?

Before my own house burned, my experience with fire had been limited to my years in California. Before I moved to southern CA, I never knew that the west was always going up in flames, but sure enough, come summer the tell-tale smell of burning forests would fill the air. It’s a smell you never forget. The fires were generally up in the San Bernardino mountains and I rarely saw smoke, let alone flames. Until 2003. That autumn was hot and dry. For a week in October, I’d actually see some bright orange flames up in the mountains, so I knew they were big. The air quality got worse and worse. The “Old Fire” spread and one Saturday night, the kids and I watched from my bedroom window as the entire mountain range was ablaze with fire. My son pointed out the zigzag running down the mountain into the city of San Bernardino, only 10 miles away. The “Old Fire” eventually claimed about 1000 homes and 6 lives. I taught at a school in San Bernardino and 45 of our students lost their homes; many had only what they could grab and stuff into a backpack. Schools closed for a week because the air was so bad. For several days, flakes fell on my yard like snow – ashes from the forests and people’s homes. Later I drove around parts of the city that were affected. It was an eerie landscape as some houses were burned to the ground, some half standing, and others on the same street not even touched by flames.

After my house fire, several colleagues told me about their family history with fire. One colleague had been a little boy. All he knew is that he’d gone to bed and later woken up in some neighbor’s arms outside, watching his house burn. At the time, he was fascinated by the fire. Now he realizes how tough it was on his parents to rebuild. Another colleague told me how her retired parents had lost much of their house and personal property in a fire. They had lived in the country then and it took some time before the firefighters could reach them. Oh well, her mother said, I’ve been meaning to downsize before we moved into town. Perhaps it takes age to be so philosophical about such an event. My realtor also experienced a fire, or rather, her son did. She was away on a trip when it happened,  just as I was, and she waited for months before she could return to her house. Who knew when I chose her and her husband the month before my fire that we would soon have this in common? I’ve heard many other fire  stories and what strikes me is how resilient people are when faced with difficult circumstances. This gives me hope that once the immediate effect of my house fire has passed, I, too, will bounce back.

Nothing left but the bathroom sink

This entry was posted in California, Colleagues, House Fire, My Life, Old Fire, Personal Memoir, San Bernardino and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Everybody has a fire story (36)

  1. shoshwrites3 says:

    Done. I figured you meant it for my other blog. Or if you didn’t, check my soccer blog out!

  2. shoshwrites says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Karen. I’m sorry your pets did not make it. I’m grateful that my 2 dogs did because I think my son would never forgive himself if they hadn’t (even though the fire was not his fault). Unfortunately, there are many 100s of more fire stories now in central Texas after the terrible few weeks we’ve had with fires.

  3. Karen Schaeffner says:

    Hello, again. My husband and I lost everything except for a few bins and our vehicles in the fire that destroyed our idyllic country rental on November 23, 2010. Now we are in a duplex, and, although exceedingly grateful for surviving (our pets did not make it), I feel like I’m in the Witness Protection Program. All things are new and unfamiliar. Fire does that. Last week I finally wiped the dog slobber off the inside of my rear windows. Final act of letting go of my beloved Corgi.

    Jamey so appropriately called this the new normal. (I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter.)

    On June 26, 2011, another fire touched my life, albeit from afar. A former fiance lost his life in a housefire. I grieved for his family, yet was again soberly aware of the blessing of having survived a devastating fire that may well have taken our lives.

    We are currently studying fire safety in first grade. Soon we will take our field trip to the fire station that is at the edge of our playground. The volunteer firefighters of Lincoln Township were the ones who valiantly fought the blaze last November. They always do an excellent job demonstrating fire equipment and fire safety to all the students. It is my hope that none of them ever experience the trauma of a fire, but if they do, they will know what to do.

    Thanks for allowing me to share.

  4. shoshwrites says:

    Jamey – Thank you for your fire story. I’m so sorry you lost everything. Whenever I hear of stories like yours, I’m grateful that my house is still standing [the whole interior needs rebuilding, but the outside structure is fine] and I do have some of my things [mostly in storage, but I know I’ll get them back]. It’s so true that everything can change so quickly. One minute I was deboarding the plane, happy, thinking about selling my house in two days, and the next minute I get the phone call that changed everything. Good luck in your recovery!!!

  5. shoshwrites says:

    Gabriel – Thank you for your beautifully written comments on that terrible fire. I’ll always remember some students coming to me, the shock still in their faces, telling me about their fire and losing it all. One student tearfully asked how much her textbooks would cost to replace. Her mom wanted to know. Thankfully, the school district replaced all textbooks lost in the fire at no cost to families, many of whom could ill afford another cost. I feel fortunate that I did not lose my entire home or all of my personal possessions.

  6. i do recall that ugly fire; one that claimed many homes of my still close friends. i remember the fire starting …I was at the age of 17 running cross country,hating life at the time because i was running long distances (sometimes at 6 AM) to keep my weight down and my leg mass up for the wrestling season that followed.I didn’t give to much regard because the San Bernardino area has always dealt with a fire either one year or an other-which was always under control after a brief moment.This one however…
    my sense’s were aroused;mainly by my nose.it was like a diabetic could smell a good barbecue .it was as if some one took the time to load a smoker with some nice orange wood,hickory, charcoal… and the only thing that was missing was the side of beef. As i awakened, i could taste my saliva burning my throat choking as my eyes burned as they just cracked open to look out my window to notice that my blue,usually smoggy sky had turned in to an orange maelstrom of toxic death with the hint of burning amber the floated down like burning Great Horned Owl feathers.
    there wasn’t a whole lot that we could do except hope for the best.I have never been in the same situation as my unfortunate friends or as their new club member; yet at least we hope ,prey, and push for the best- definitely for one and other.gulck -Lira

  7. shoshwrites says:

    So true, Brenda. Even with all the trouble I’ve had with my house, I need to remember to be grateful that no one was hurt and that I do have insurance to rebuild [even if it’s a huge hassle].

  8. Brenda Robles says:

    Somethimes we have small problems but we dont realize that there are people who really have problems, and yes unfortunately there are more sad stories like this one.

  9. shoshwrites says:

    Thanks for posting, Joanne. I bet there are lots of stories like this, unfortunately.

  10. Joanne says:

    I had a fire also in my apt. I watched the roof collapse into my apt and the firemen come and destroy my possessions etc. I lost tax records etc. So they moved me into another apt and then they had the nerve to tell me that I could stay in …the apt that they put me in but would increase my rent or I can go back to my old apt but the rent would increase because they redid it!!! (the fire affected several apts). I said no it’s ok, I’m moving out. Then they said I couldn’t get my deposit back because the apt was dirty and I said, that apt is so clean you can see right thru it. They knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on so they gave me back the deposit. I tried to sue them but they said the apt owners (one of the richest people in Houston) wasn’t at fault. Of course I didn’t have any apt insurance. Expensive lesson.

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