Monday, February 2, 2015

Through the Fire

After posting pictures of our fire from ten years ago, I was suddenly struck by the notion that I’ve never written about this event that changed our lives. In fact, I've shared details with only a few people. I've talked about it plenty but the details have always been hazy. And so, today, that changes. This make take a few posts as I’m not quite sure how it’s going to develop...

It was a beautiful, cold Saturday in January of 2005. Kaitlyn had just turned eight years old the month prior, and Madison was a whopping five years old. We had lived in the house for 2 1/2 years and were finally in a rhythm with homeschooling a second grader and kindergartner. Sure, the room where tackled academics each day could have doubled as a closet, but it was perfect for us! We had been at our church (The Church at Brook Hills) for four years, and we were content with where God had us!

Only one little issue….nightmares had awoken Kaitlyn for several weeks with the thought of a fire destroying our home. Each time, we had reassured her and hugged her tightly. The child was known to sleepwalk and sleeptalk, but this was different. The screaming in the middle of the night was enough to frighten anyone…especially a parent in deep sleep! Then, one night, I had the same dream. It was as clear as anything I’ve ever seen, and I relayed the details to JT the next day as we were driving in the car.

JT’s question was fairly nonchalant, “If our house did burn down, what would you want out of the house?” Without question I wanted the scrapbooks that contained all of the girls’ baby pictures. And conveniently (or perhaps not), those books were located in the guest room closet which was the furtherest room in the house from the front door.

And, as a side note, I had just cleaned every closet, room, cabinet and drawer in the house in preparation for a yard sale. My hands had touched it all, and I was giddy to be getting rid of so much stuff. This little bit of knowledge would come in handy later with the insurance company.

The girls had friends who were spending the night that day. I was a little proud that the four of them had sat down earlier to make a schedule for their plans. They were trying to maximize their time together. To my delight they made a list on paper with times and activities...only colored markers could've made it better. So, in good old fashioned ingenuity, they worked backwards from bedtime to a movie they had chosen to dinner and baths. Thus the reason that they were taking baths at 3:30 in the afternoon.

At their ages it was easiest and most effective if I brushed out the tangles, so they took turns trampling down the steps into my lap. Straight haired kids went first because they were the fastest! Madison was the third girl to plop into my chair, and I took my time brushing out her curly locks. Meanwhile, JT had fired up the grill for hamburgers and placed a pot of oil on the stovetop on very low heat in order to cook fries. Brownies were in the oven, and the smell was delightful.

Backing up, I need to tell you that the stove had superheated prior to January 29, 2005. Once JT was cooking and one of the back eyes had produced a small fire. I recall that I was brave enough to run into the living room, scream at my brother Daniel to go help and then did nothing. Such courage, I know. What we didn’t know at the time was that this particular stove had a history of superheating elements.

Now, back to the day at hand. I sent Madison downstairs to help her daddy blow up air mattresses. I specifically remember that Madi Grace (that’s what we called her at the time until a few years later when she insisted on being called the sophisticated Madison) ran into the kitchen, retrieved some cleaning wipes and whisked past me to the basement. As she went down the stairs, I heard a loud boom from the kitchen. My first thought was that Madi had jumped down the bottom few steps. But, then my brain kicked in and realized that the sound was from the kitchen.

I set Kaitlyn out of my lap and went in the dining room which was right next to the kitchen. As I entered the room, I looked into the bay window at the end of the kitchen and saw the reflection of the fire on the stovetop. I saw smoke and KNEW that this was it. Our house was going to burn to the ground. No doubts whatsoever.

As I exited the dining room, JT had bounded up the steps and met me. I told him that the stove was on fire and he instructed me to get the kids out.

I grabbed the cordless phone and began screaming for the girls to come downstairs. They later told me that they only heard Kaitlyn scream from the front porch. She was yelling their names and telling them to get out of the house. I will never forget the pitch of her voice or the desperation in her shrieks.

It was 33º outside and none of us had shoes on our feet. We didn’t care. I herded the girls through the yard and tried to call 911 at the same time. Our security system had already captured our phone line and I couldn’t get through.

Four little girls and I stood on the front porch of a neighbor’s house. All blonde heads. Wet hair. Nightgowns. Bare feet. I recall my own feet being numb from the temperatures and my heart feeling the same from the reality before me. But, the most prominent memory I have is standing there not knowing where JT was. Smoke was pouring out every window. Glass was shattering. Flames were climbing the walls. I watched helplessly.

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