Saturday, July 3, 2010

House Fire

I've been wanting and not wanting to write this post for more than a week. So here goes. I was working at the antique mall on June 22nd when my best friend Ann Marie called to say "I'm standing in my front yard watching my house burn down!"

Our connection was bad and it wasn't like she wanted to have a long conversation anyway, so we hung up and I hoped that she was exaggerating and that it would be put out soon. If you know me (in person), you probably know Ann Marie and her husband Doug. I've known them for 35 years, and they have been like family over the years. It would be hard to overstate how many times they have "been there" for me. If you know them, you probably know that their house is cram-packed full of stuff -- art, family memoirs, collectibles out the wazoo -- everything from trash to treasure. I wondered what would survive.

Meanwhile the fire truck got there quickly only to find a faulty hydrant, and they had to send for a pumper truck. There were other problems that caused delays -- the floor plan is unusual, and the firemen were having trouble determining exactly how to get to the fire, which had started in the attic.

After awhile other fire departments were called, and you can get an idea from the photo below that many emergency vehicles made it to the scene. (About half of these photos were taken by Guy, Ann Marie's son. Thanks Guy!)

Long story short...much damage. The picture below shows the loft, over the atrium, which is right next to the section of the attic where the fire started. Unfortunately much artwork was stored in the loft, including several of Ann Marie's large mixed media pieces. It hasn't been determined yet how much of the artwork can be cleaned and/or restored.

This shows the loft from the atrium below. You can see that the fire was successfully confined to the upper areas of the house, as these wooden railings weren't destroyed. While the fire damage wasn't extensive, the smoke and water damage was, literally affecting everything in the house.
This slightly different view has the loft at lower right, but also includes the high atrium windows, boarded up by the time I took the picture. The condition of the sheetrock revealed at left is typical all over the house, and what my pictures don't show is that much of the roof is gone. It was boarded up and tarped the first day after the fire, but with all the rain we've had, it hasn't been effective in preventing rain from pouring in.

In the picture below, the center section just above the daylit doorway is another area that was completely open to the outdoors and is boarded up.

Many of the ceilings collapsed, I presume from the huge amounts of water sprayed in on the fire. The floor in Ann Marie's bedroom is pretty typical of what the floors look like throughout the house. What you don't get from a photograph is the strong odor of smoke and wet burned stuff.

I know there are some artists reading this blog, and how heart-breaking would it be if your studio looked like this? The plywood panels cover the opening where sliding glass doors used to be, presumably broken by the firefighters in the course of what they needed to do. The items remaining -- plastic bins, solvents, etc. -- testify to the fact that this room didn't get that hot, but smoke and water were very destructive.

Guy took this photo and I'm not sure which room he was in; possibly Ann Marie's studio. It reminds me again of how much art was damaged or destroyed, not to mention all of her art supplies. As an artist working in mixed media, she had a lot of everything.
Seeing the house from the outside is very deceiving, and I think some neighbors and acquaintances assume that the damage was minimal, after doing a drive-by. Really all that can be noticed is the blue tarp on the roof at upper right. The worst damage was at the back of the house.

Doug and Ann Marie will be moving into a rental near their house by the end of the week and will continue to move forward. You just never know what's going to happen! The lesson is to make a list, take pictures, video your house room by room to be prepared in the event of something like this. The blessing is that no one was hurt -- it truly could have been a lot worse.


paula said...

you know...this is horrible but i know things always seem to work out for whatever way is best. i hope there is a reason after the fact...or at least, something good comes out of this disaster. thank god no one was hurt and i'm glad they have you as a are a good one and i'm lucky myself. xo me

Cynthia said...'s probably not a comforting sentiment to express to someone who has just suffered any kind of loss, setback, or disaster, but I too believe that things turn out for the best, and there's always something positive.'s not horrible! And I'm lucky too! :-D

Harold said...

Thank you so much Cynthia. I appreciate your words and the sentiment you shared.

Cynthia said...

Thank YOU Harold for leaving a comment. Reminds me that I may have met you the same day I met Doug, and if not, certainly the same week. And of course I had known Ann Marie all of a couple of days by then! Lotta water over the well!

Susie Flatau said...

Cynthia - I wrote you a short note on my own blog (still trying to figure out how all of this works)...but didn't know if you'd go back to the blog and ever read it. I am so sad about Doug and Ann Marie's fire...and ultra sad, sorrowful, lost feeling about her losing her art work...and their home's sad. I'm glad they were not hurt...please share with them how I ache for their losses. I'm glad they have your friendship to help get them through all of this. Hugs - love, susie

Cynthia said...

Susie -- I'm equally unsure if you'll go back to my blog to read this -- but I will certainly pass along your empathetic comment! I'll see her tomorrow -- we're going to photograph and do a data base of all the artwork. I think I'll go to your blog now and read what you wrote there! ;-D