I teach a class at SNU Tulsa called Earth's Natural Disasters (which likely has a new perspective for me). This past Wednesday was the first night of that class. I talked to my mom on the way to Tulsa, nothing new or exciting. Just before I got to town, Michelle called. We had offered our home as a place for a couple of friends to have an indoor picnic since having a picnic outside on that day was pretty much impossible.
We have a fireplace and they asked if they could build a fire and why wouldn't we oblige? It was a couple and fire makes things much more "romantic." A birthday, indoor, picnic with a fire. What could go wrong?
I talked to Michelle on the phone about whether or not the flue was open and I was pretty sure that it was. They checked and agreed. I assume at this point they lit a fire using some very wet wood and the natural gas "helper". I arrived at the campus and went inside. I talked to Michelle and our she told me that our friends were having a nice time and loved the smell of a campfire so this was really nice. It's not at all unusual to smell a little bit of the fire when we use the fireplace.
By this time it was right about 6pm, which was the time class normally starts. I got a phone call from Michelle telling me that the house had filled with smoke and asking me about using the fire extinguisher. I reminded her to pull the pin and point it at the base of the fire. I assumed at that point that we must have been wrong about the flue being open. She told me they were going to call 911 and I figured she would put the fire out in the fireplace and call me back to tell me that everything was okay.
I always try to start class with prayer as I know that school can be very stressful for adult students (and traditional) so we started it as usual. I informed the class (very) briefly what I thought was happening and we prayed and started class with introductions. I got a phone call in the middle of intros from a friend asking if my house was on fire. I kind of played it off, but she seemed concerned and we hung up. A minute or two later she told me she was in my neighbor's yard and said she could see fire coming out of the top of the house. This was the point I realized that all was not okay and that students would have to wait. I needed to get back to the City.
I summarily dismissed class and headed out of Tulsa for OKC. As I was walking out of SNU Tulsa, I called Michelle (I think) but I really have no recollection of what she or I said. I remember getting in the car and being thankful that I had filled up with gas in OKC so I wouldn't need to stop on the way.
I recognized that there was nothing I could do except get back to the City safely, so I set the cruise on the speed limit and moved along at a steady pace, focusing hard on following all traffic rules and being safe. The last thing I needed at this point was a traffic violation ro an accident.
I called my insurance agent, Jim Dunn. He's s State Farm Agent and I couldn't possibly recommend you to anyone that cares more about his clients than he does. Seriously, if you don't have State Farm insurance through his agency, you should reconsider. He has gone far and above the call of duty during this entire ordeal.
He lives about 6 blocks from my house and said he'd head over and see what he could see. I waited (im)patiently for his call. He called me about 10 minutes later and told me the situation. Smoke was coming from the attic. It appeared that there was a pretty good-sized fire in the attic and the Warr Acres Fire Department were on the scene working hard.
Jim and I talked some more after a while and he prepared me for the worst. He explained usually when there's an attic fire, the firemen have to use so much water, the ceilings in all of the rooms tend to fall in. (more on this later) He told me that he would go ahead and go to his office (about a 20 minute drive each way) and get his checkbook so he could write me an advance check. Uh, what? We don't know the extent of the damage and you are going to go ahead and write me a check? Wow. This must be bad. I not yet begun to wrap my brain around what kind of adventure we were about to embark on (and that's probably a good thing).
Jim recommended that I consider a restoration service, such as Phoenix Restoration Services. I have a ton of respect for Jim and willingly told him that he could have them contact me. He said I should expect to hear from them very shortly. They did not disappoint. The owner of the company, Jeff called me before I even made it back to Oklahoma City. Did I say I set the cruise on the speed limit?
I had basically processed that we were going to have major damage to our home. That was a given. I had no idea (really) what I was going to find when I arrived at our home just about 8:15 pm or so.
The firemen were just getting done and were about ready to back the brush truck up just to watch for flare-ups. The fire chief welcomed me to my property and asked if I'd like to walk through. I obliged.
We entered the garage (after a hug from two of the best friends a guy could have, Scott Redwine and Tod Mosshart). Immediately I could see that things were going to be pretty bad. I could see all the way through the ceiling of the garage to the sky. There was a huge access hole that allowed firefighters to get to the area around the chimney. I simply walked and tried to take it all in. The chief was talking, but I'm not sure I could tell you what he said.
We continued into the laundry room where there were more holes, water everywhere, and paint that had begun to bubble. This could be because of fire or water. I'm honestly not sure. We kept walking.
I looked into the room where we have a college student staying for the semester and saw that I could again see the sky. His stuff was all covered with a salvage tarp belonging to the fire department. Everything in the room was soaked. In fact, pretty much the entire room was wet furniture (moved from the den for dinner), a day bed, and a huge pile of soaking wet clothes. Moving on.
As I rounded the corner to peer into the den, my stomach sank. The den (which is also sunken - se ) was standing in about 3 inches of water, the ceiling was burned/torn through. Clearly we were very close to the origin of the fire. The hottest part of the action. The romantic dinner setup still sat incongruously at the other end of the room (and it is still there now). A significant amount of the stuff in the attic was now in a large pile in the den, still smoldering a bit.
On to the kitchen. Wow. I might have said a bad word or two. More sky. More holes in the ceiling. More smoldering. Water, sheetrock, and masonite all over the floor. Nasty. Like you can't even imagine, nasty. I didn't look at anything in the cabinets. (side note - I saw all of our dishes undamaged being packed for cleaning - yay!) However, I did see bare electrical wires hanging from the hole in the ceiling. Crazy. Weird. Very weird.
Then things get miraculously better. We move into the living room, there are only a couple of fist-sized holes in the ceiling that were likely used to see into the attic. There's significant water damage on the kitchen side, but other than the floor, things don't look that bad. Things are roughly the same throughout the rest of the house. Water dripping, but the ceilings are all miraculously intact.
I am amazed and blessed that our house sustained such a reasonably small amount of damage considering the magnitude of the fire. This may be a bit of hyperbole, since they haven't started tearing pieces off of the house to begin reconstruction, so I might reconsider my "small amount of damage" statement.
We are in the very early stages of restoration, but I'm feeling really positive about it. So far, our clothing and curtains have been completely removed from the house. Additionally, a significant amount of our belongings inside the house have been packed and/or removed.
As for the family, Michelle and I are firmly ensconced in a hotel until we are able to move into a rent house. We expect to be there for 3-4 months. Maybe 6 months at the most. Our furniture will be delivered on Wednesday. I've already got internet set up there, the electricity is on, and the water is on. Fortunately, we don't need gas because only the heat uses that and I think we can survive the one or two freezes left without the heat on.
The kids? Jessica and JC are both in the dorms. Jess is going to be working on campus, so she has the option to live there during the summer. Timing? Awesome. JC has a couple of options with friends/family. While that hasn't all been worked totally out, I have no doubt that it will be nailed down very soon.
Our family is blessed. We have been inundated by the kindness of our friends, family, and community. If you are reading this and wondering what we need, prayer is what that is. We don't need any gift cards to anywhere (except Ted's). Thanks to each of you for your concern, prayers and gifts. We appreciate you so much. We also appreciate your continued prayers so much as we try to work through/itemize all of the things that have/had and make decisions about the rebuilding of half of our house. The important pieces are all safe, it's just a matter of figuring out what to do with what's left.