Thursday, April 9, 2009

Things I've Learned from the Fire, Part 1

On Monday, about half an hour after I got to work, I got a scary call. "There's been a small fire at your house."

"Small, what do you mean small."

"You'll have to come home to see and judge for yourself. Your husband and son are safe."

One of our dogs was not. Our beloved Sheba, scared and confused, got away from Len and ran back into the house. She died of smoke inhalation in her "safe space." We are heartbroken. All the rest is just stuff. Unfortunately, some of it was very valuable stuff. That's the downside of being collectors where value appreciates but insurance rates for those things are astronomical.

The first thing I've learned from the fire is never ignore a dog when he's trying to tell you something. Len thought the smell of smoke was outside, not inside. Dexter was wimpering, and trying to get Len to leave the house. Eventually, Len left his office and realized the problem was in our bedroom, got Michael out of bed, grabbed the dogs and called the fire department when they got outside.

Second, store store valuables in a Lane Chest. The outside is charred, the inside pristine. If the art had been in that, it would still be with us, because what wasn't charred, was water damaged.

Third, it takes a very long time for wood to actually burn. It can char, but to totally eat away at it would have taken much, much longer. My beloved six-month-old table in the living room is fine, but of the six 18" leaves in my hall closet, three are kind of charred, and there may be some water damage and scratching from the firemen throwing the out into a pile of rubbish including most of the roof of our bedroom, but I think they'll be restorable. If not, I'll be getting a new table when we move back home--someday. So if you don't have a Lane Chest, use really good wood dressers and cabinets, and keep the doors closed.

Four, if you live in an older house, with electric wall heaters you have never used in the 22 years you've owned a home, get them removed. The firemen think that some sort of a power surge went through our lines, heating the unit which we have never, ever turned on, and setting fire (I'll bet to dust first) to my laundry hamper and from there it went up. I would not have kept things close to a unit we actually used, and I think some of the news reports have given a mistaken impression of what happened.

Five, and I knew this before, good friends are worth more than all of the gold stored in New York City. On Tuesday, we had 10 friends doing an archeological dig in the debris that had been thrown our of our now stripped bedroom and bath, looking for any of our jewelery that might be intact. We've been surprised by what we have found and what hasn't shown up, when things were originally next to each other or in the same container.

Six, store all jewelery in boxes (preferably a closed jewelery box) and not on any plexiglass display--they melt. They will probably make excellent works of modern art someday, somewhere, but I've lost countless necklaces and earings. My engagement ring, an opal ring my ex-husband gave me, and a black pearl ring were all in a small cardboard ring box in my top dresser drawer. My underwear melted, but I've got my rings unharmed. We have yet to find anything we can identify as our 22" television set except a twisted, stretched piece of plastic which might have covered the screen. My horse jewelery was in display boxes on top of it. We've only found some of the pieces, in varying conditions. We are thrilled that we found the beautiful horse and malachite necklace and earing set Len had made for me last Christmas, especially that my friends found all three pieces. I know that they were in a box that must have been damaged, because we haven't found it or other pieces that were in the same cardboard box.

Seven, silver melts. But not all the time. I think I have found a heavy lump of silver which may have been my Rohirrim-inspired horse head pin from the Noble Collection of Lord of the Rings collectibles. Both pendants Len bought me in December and the one I bought in February are missing, but may be some of the smaller puddles of silver we've found. We need to borrow a metal detector. Pot metals and gold seemed to fare better, but not always. An 18 karat Italian gold ring I bought in Florence will need to be reshaped, because it bent, but it cleaned up with no effort. I have no idea where my box of cultured pearls that I've collected over the years at the county fair have wound up. Some of my pearl jewelery is just fine, so I don't know how fire affects pearls. I do recall from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that they can dissolve in wine, so if an acid formed in the room, that may be where they went.

We did have insurance. We are greatly inconvenienced, but not destitute. And we still have a sense of humor about this.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I'm so sorry about the loss of your dog and the whole experience. Thank you for posting about what you learned, so that others can be better prepared.

Mary Robinette Kowal said...

I'm glad that you are able to use your sense of humor to cope with this.

Linda Wyatt said...

Hi. I'm a friend of Gillian's who heard about your situation. You have my total sympathy- my house burned in 2006. Many of your comments are very similar to what I told friends at the time.

We no longer have furniture that isn't solid wood. We have a fireproof safe for things we really need not to lose. We replaced all the hollow core doors in the house with solid wood doors, which are kept closed. We have more smoke detectors per capita than most normal people, and more than one large fire extinguisher. We don't leave things plugged in.

Fire is educational, that's for sure.

Best of luck in your recovery. The best piece of advice I got was from the insurance agent- get a notebook and write everything down. What you've found, things you know are missing, who you've talked to and about what. There's so much going on that it's not possible to remember it all in your head.

We were out of our house for about ten months while it was gutted and rebuilt. And that was from a "small" fire.

Mostly, I'm sorry about your dog. That's the hard part.

Drop me a line if you have any questions about dealing with things. We had issues with the cleaning company (Don't use Servicemaster!) and the contractors, as I think most people do. We might be able to pass on some suggestions.