Starting Over

We choose new beginnings all the time. When we change jobs, change our address, change relationships. But what about when it’s the biggest change of your life and it’s not by choice? That’s what I found myself facing when a fire took my families home and all of our belongings… How do we start over?

The day had started great. I had taken a few vacation days to make an already long weekend extra long. Just as I prefer to do on any vacation day, I slept in. After a comfortably late start to the day, I played a few video games then decided to get a few errands out of the way.

Normally I would take my dogs hiking so that they’d relax a bit for the afternoon and let me play video games, or whatever other silly things I wanted to waste my time on. Today, however, it had been raining all morning and the forecast said it would rain the rest of the day. At the time, this pissed me off as it meant my dogs couldn’t / wouldn’t go hiking as they don’t like rain. That translates into having two bored, hyper dogs bugging me all afternoon. It’s funny how something that annoyed me at the time turned out to be a blessing.

After a few quick errands, I picked up two Beef Tendons which are my dog’s favourite “It’s raining and dad needs to keep us occupied” treat. In spite of the forecast, the rain had let up, so I put the dogs out in the backyard with their treats and decided to head out to my shop to do a bit of woodworking. I had been working on a chessboard that a friend was gifting her father and wanted to finish it up.

As the dogs chewed away on their treats, I was busy sanding. Occasionally, I would check out my window to ensure it hadn’t started raining again. As I mentioned, my dogs hate the rain and on a few occasions, they had been rained on while I was distracted with my carpentry. When that happened, they were not very quick to forgive me.

Later at the hospital, the emergency personnel would ask how long I was in my shop, I didn’t really know. I figured it couldn’t have been more than 20 or 25 minutes, which when I say it, seems like such a short span of time. Thinking back though, it’s the longest and worst 20 minutes of my life.

I checked out the window on the status of the rain when I noticed that the fog was starting to roll into my backyard. It had been unseasonably mild that day and with the rain, it had been pretty foggy in the morning. The fog had cleared up before lunch, but it seemed it was now coming back as the afternoon temperatures set in. When I checked again a few moments later the fog was even thicker. Thinking that this looked like a scene from Stephen King’s “The Mist” I decided to open my shop door and have a look. As soon as I did, I saw the full picture.

Starting at ground level was the fog that had originally grabbed my attention. It formed a solid wall between my house and my neighbours. Then as I followed that solid light grey wall higher, it turned into black billowing clouds.

My house was on fire.

I ran to our basement patio door and couldn’t see anything. It was as if someone had taken black spraypaint and covered the door & windows. I called 911 and as I tried to explain to the operator that my house was on fire I realized that our cats were still in the house. I dropped my phone and headed to the garage. The garage had a doorway into our kitchen which was on the main floor. I thought I may be able to get in there if the fire was in the basement. I opened the door and saw the scariest thing I could have ever imagined. Nothing. You couldn’t see anything except a faint glimmer of sunlight in the bottom few feet of the room. Everything else was black. I covered my face with my t-shirt and sweater thinking that would somehow help. It didn’t.

I could take a breath, but I couldn’t breathe.

I could never have imagined what being in an environment like that was like. Where you can’t see your hands in front of you and even the air is fighting against you. I have many friends that are first responders, including Firefighters. Even with the equipment they have, I can say that it takes an incredible person and mindset to knowingly rush into an environment like that. What I did was careless and a knee-jerk reaction, driven by my heart. But what those firefighters do is beyond brave.

I’m incredibly lucky. My foolish decision paid off and I was able to get our two cats and get out safely. It should not have turned out that way. Emergency personnel arrived quickly. I was taken to the hospital for 4 hours to treat me for the smoke I inhaled and some very minor burns on my hand, but that is all. The fact that this story didn’t have a different ending is a miracle and I will never forget that.

It wasn’t until eight hours later, that the firefighters took us through the house to show us the damage. They had been prepping us for hours, letting us know that even though the fire was mostly contained to the basement – the damage to the rest of the house was extensive. They kept repeating this over and over, along with having us focus on the important point that everyone was safe. Honestly though, no amount of preparation could have softened the blow.

Walking through your home to see everything in ruin is heartbreaking.

Burnt ashes and melted plastic replaced heirlooms and gifts. Even with the masks they provided us, you could taste the toxic air.

That was day one.

Over the course of the next few days, it actually got worse. The numbness that initially set in faded and the gravity of the situation was felt full force. Feeling hopeless and lost, not knowing what’s next. Or worse.. knowing, but not wanting to take those steps. The day after the fire I bought one outfit, just one. I wore that for the rest of the week. Not because I didn’t have money to buy more clothes, but because thinking about anything, including having to replace every piece of clothing I had was too much.

I can’t say that it was all bad though. My wife and I have shed just as many tears of happiness as we have in anguish since the fire. The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, co-workers, and even complete strangers has been incredible. People we had never met were offering clothes, food, a place to stay, whatever they could. While the memories of this fire and it’s destruction will probably dull over time, I will never forget the love and support that we have received these last few weeks. There is no way that I could put into words how much the support and kindness has meant, so I will just say Thank You!

Thank You for whatever you’ve done for us! From making us food, to just chatting about random shit with us, so we could feel “normal” for a short while. You don’t understand how much it’s meant to us.

What’s next? A new beginning. While we may not be able to replace all of our belongings, we haven’t lost our memories.

We will buy new stuff.

Our house will be rebuilt.

Our family is still whole.

So here’s to the future and to creating new memories.