Surviving a devastating fire – Part 2
This is a series of blogs, about losing everything and coming out the other side.
Remembering that night!
I have never been this close to a fire before. Like so many of us, I have seen footage on tv etc., but never actually experienced it.
Many folks say what they would do in the event of a fire, but you can bet your bottom dollar, that all goes out the window when you are actually faced with it.
I was getting ready for bed (it was around 11:45pm), which means it is feeding time for the cats. As I stood at the kitchen window, I could see an orange glow reflecting on the siding of my neighbors house. My first thought was “Strange time to have a bonfire” – I decided to go outside and take a look, and thank goodness I did! A small fire was burning on the back of the neighbors house – I noticed the little ornamental tree burning, making sizzling and crackling noises. I thought it was not much of anything, and within seconds it just took hold and escalated up the back of their house.
I didn’t evacuate immediately, instead I went out front, there was a bit of a commotion going on, and I called 911. Turns out they had already been called and were coming up my block as I was about to hang up.
It was then that I went into “auto-pilot” mode. GET THE CATS!
The cat stroller is always near the front door during the summer, the cats love to play / sleep in it, and it is easy for spontaneous walks. Well on this night, I am so thankful it was right there. The boys were sat up on the sofa – I grabbed them and almost threw them into the stroller.
Ophelia had scuttled under the sofa.
All of a sudden I could hear glass breaking and smoke was coming in from the kitchen, and seconds later more glass breaking and my bedroom was quickly engulfed in smoke (and not long after was on fire).
I was reaching under the sofa, but Ophelia was just out of arms reach (so typical of her sometimes!). I needed to stay calm, Ophelia doesn’t do well with a lot of shouting and such.
All of a sudden the sofa was lifted on its end – Ophelia bolted and I was being ushered out of the house – I remember calling for Ophelia, but to no avail.
I was outside in a pair of leggings, flip-flops and my Rocky Remembered T-shirt, along with Rocky and Shady in the stroller. Little did I know at that point, this would be all that was left of my life as it was.
The next 10 hours are vivid, but hard to explain and put into words.
I couldn’t cry tears – but I was crying, my stomach was in knots, my heart beating fast, and I was crying, but it was a dry crying. All I was focused on was Ophelia.
Then all of a sudden (well it seemed that way), I saw 1, 2 and more friends – they embraced me. They stayed with me throughout the night. I will likely say this repeatedly, but I am eternally grateful to all my friends that were there for me that night, and beyond.
My dear friend Lisa was as pain in the arse to the firefighters – in a good way though – asking them to please help find my cat. But by now the fire was so intense and the firefighters had a job to do.
I had the boys in the stroller, they were anxious, especially with so many people around. The people! So many people, just watching, taking videos. Drunk people staggering around.
I remember watching a flame jump from my neighbors house (where the fire started), to my house – the intense heat, the smell of smoke, the lights, the fire trucks, ambulances, it appeared to be absolute chaos.
I remember seeing the fire “central command post” (not sure if that is the right terminology), and Chief Woods putting his arm around me. He was forthright, he didn’t beat about the bush, and explained the process as the night went on. I am forever thankful to all of the FDNY, and especially to all 200 firefighters that came that night.
I am even more thankful that the 12 firefighters that were injured have all recovered.
I am eternally grateful for my dear, dear friend Susan, she stood by me the whole night, putting up with me walking back and forth to try to keep the boys from the noise and chaos. And eventually giving me a place to stay, after convincing me we had to leave, and to come back in the morning. To this day, I still feel some guilt of leaving Ophelia all alone.
To my dear friend Alex and her partner Paula, for bringing supplies and food for the cats.
And to Justin Brannan, my local council member who, along with Chief Woods kept me informed throughout the evening, and since then Justin has been checking in on me.
And of course my friend Hugh – he was impacted as the firefighters needed to get to the back of the houses, and his house backs onto my neighbor. You don’t realize just how many people are affected by such a thing.
The Red Cross arrived, I do remember this. At that time another friend, Alexa saw me, and I didn’t even realize that her mum lived opposite me all these years! She offered for me to use the bathroom and sit up on their porch as I watched all those firefighters with ladders, hoses and tens of thousands of gallons of water going on one house and then the other – fires popping back up and taking hold.
Back to the Red Cross – amazing people, they went round all 6 families that were affected offering us shelter and help, that at that time I just didn’t know I would need so much help.
I remember calling my dad at some point and all I could say was that I didn’t get Ophelia – he broke down on the phone, I still couldn’t cry tears though. What on earth was wrong with me?! It was explained that I was obviously in shock.
It was kind of surreal, I felt I was like the other bystanders, just watching a house burn, and firefighters tackling the blaze. Then it would hit me – THAT IS MY HOUSE!
Coming up in part 3, I will explain the reuniting with Ophelia and the aftermath in the days that followed.