The other night as we ate dinner, our daughter called frantically on the cell phone. "Mommy!! is our house on fire? I had to pull over to let fire trucks by and I can see black smoke filling the sky. Are you okay?" "Nothing's wrong here," I assured her.
Just then, I heard fire trucks go by and saw three ambulances follow. We had been about to eat fresh strawberries and whipped cream for dessert but all of us at the table jumped up as one and ran out the front door.
We found indeed that black smoke was filling the sky at the house up the street--a house built the same year as ours was, by the same builder. Police wouldn't let me pass to check on the family--a young mom and four kids who are at home during the day while the Dad is at work. I could see them though, standing on the other side of the rescue trucks and the police officer assured us everyone got out.
But I could see her standing there barefoot holding her sleeping baby while the other three kids were comforted by neighbors. I walked through other yards and up and around to bypass police so I could go ask if she needed anything.
"I'm fine," she insisted. "We are all safe,that's all that matters. If a neighbor hadn't seen the smoke, I wouldn't have known what was going on."
Another neighbor had seen the smoke pouring from the attic and called 911 but then went and banged on the door. She was cooking dinner, the kids were picking up toys in the living room and the baby was asleep in his crib.
She and the neighbor got all the kids out and were standing there watching the firemen knock a hole in the roof so they could pour water in. They ran a huge hose from the frog pond at the end of the street and three towns sent tanker trucks. They also filled the attic with some kind of foam to stop the fire from spreading. Many neighbors lined the street to watch. Only a few went over to talk to the family.
Our friend Tom, who is a prepared and practical man, turned out wearing leather gloves and heavy boots and started helping the fire department lay the hose to the frog pond.
I ran back home, grabbed an empty backpack and filled it with beanie babies, fleece blankets, a pack of toothbrushes, toothpaste, soaps and hand wipes, and shampoo and conditioner and put in my phone number. I took a pair of flip-flops too--and gave these to the mom as she was barefoot. My feet are two sizes larger and I figured flip flops would be easier to manage than too-large sneakers.
By this time, the fire was under control and the firemen told her she would be able to retrieve some valuables.
Her husband then came running up the road. He saw me, and hugged me as I yelled "Your family is OK--they are over there with the firemen!"
This family is from New York and have lived in New Hampshire just a few years. They do have neighbors they are close to, who are their age with same-age children so they made plans to stay there for the night. We were to leave at 3:00 am on a road trip to North Carolina so we offered them our house while we are gone, but they decided being with close friends would help the kids cope.
The fire department left at 10:pm and we had to pack, and get some sleep. I had canned strawberry jam and strawberry lemonade earlier in the day and had to wash the floor!
At about 1:30 a.m., I heard something and tried to see if anything was up at the house where the fire was. The trees are thick, though, and I couldn't see anything. It's also a bit far up the road, around the bend. Well, something was wrong--and an hour later, I saw red flashing lights and firemen once more laying hoses. They had had left a thermal imaging camera at the house and this had detected that the fire had started again. By the time they arrived, flames were shooting up. The house essentially is totally gone. The fire started in wiring above the kitchen.
We learned later that the cold foam designed to suppress hot spots from reigniting the fire fooled a thermal imaging camera the fire department had left on site. Thus, they did not know when the fire reignited until neighbors across the street called them.
We couldn't leave at 3:am. as planned because fire trucks blocked our driveway. One of them told me that he was glad the family got some of their valuables out before the second fire. He also said that he wished people would make sure smoke detectors work--and that they would have bug-out bags. He started to explain what a bug-out bag is but I told him I had them ready to go--and he looked at me and said "Oh..of COURSE! You're the neighbor who brought them a backpack full of supplies!"
Finally, the fire truck was moved. I hated to leave, not knowing how this family will cope. But in between packing and leaving, I got an email from Edy's ice cream saying that I once again was a winner in their ice cream party for 100 contest. In that essay I said that I would have the fire department over to thank them for their hard work during the ice storm last winter.
My buddy Angela gave me a great idea. We'll let our neighbors be honorary hosts so they can thank the fire department for helping them--but we will ask the neighborhood to make donations and help this young family rebuild.