It was just a little past 11 (I'd been timing contractions so I'd been looking at the clock a lot) when I saw a fire truck come down the next street over. As you may recall, we have large picture windows in our living room, and we are on the second story. It happens that the two houses across the street from us are both single-story homes, as are the houses behind them facing the other street. So I had a pretty good view of this big truck with lights aglow. As always happens when I see an emergency vehicle, I got a little lump in my stomach, and sent up a quick thought for whomever had called for help... I said something to Hubby about wow, we're on a little dead-end street without all that many people on it and that was a big fire truck. He surmised that it had been an EMT call since we couldn't see it anymore...and just then we saw the truck return and stop almost directly even with us (on that next street over). We only know some of our neighbors at this point, but we do know someone who lives right there, so we started watching out the window to see if we could tell which house they were going to.
Perhaps a minute later I was focusing on a contraction when Hubby said "oh my gosh" and I looked out the window just in time to see massive flames burst out of the upstairs window of a house on the far side of that next street (we didn't know those residents). There was very little smoke (at least that we could see) but within seconds we could tell that the house was a total loss--the flames were massive. (No, this is not the actual house we saw, this photo is from an insurance website...but this is similar to what it looked like.)
A second fire truck arrived as the roof went up and we heard the house collapse. Hubby said he kept feeling like he should try to go over there and help, except what would he really do but be in the way...the firefighters were doing all they could to contain the fire and we knew that anything still in that house was lost.
I was grateful that there was snow on the ground--if only a little--and that the air was cold and damp. Regardless, two neighboring evergreen trees burst into flame one after the other, sending sparks high into the dark sky. We stood there frozen, watching out the window with a strange mix of horror and awe at the magnitude and power of the thing. Both of us had fleeting thoughts of hurriedly grabbing some clothes and blankets and putting them in the van in case the wind changed and we had to run ourselves, but everything went so quickly that there was not much time to think it let alone respond to the thought. When the flames disappeared, and nothing was left but the enormous cloud of steam rising where the firefighters' streams hit the pile of embers, I thought to glance at the clock again. It was 11:24. I don't know exactly what time we saw those first tongues of flame, but the whole thing was at most 15 minutes, and probably closer to 10.
As we got ready for bed Hubby posed the question: If we had to get out of our house, and had gotten the kids, but had just one minute to grab one other thing, what would you want?
One thought came instantly to my mind, and as I voiced it he agreed that it was the first thing he had thought of too: we would grab the laptop computer, because it has years worth of photos on it, and photos are irreplaceable. Yes, we have scrapbooks and I have a couple of boxes of print photos that I am slowly getting into albums...but those would be hard to grab, and the computer has the most so with limited time that is what I'd grab.
Hubby asked what I'd grab if I had enough time for two things...I thought for a while...I have some beautiful things, some things I love, some heirlooms or things I've spent hours and hours creating...but they are all just things. The honest truth is that I'd probably grab the file folder with everyone's birth certificates and passports and our house deed, and if I still had time I'd try to grab some blankets and/or extra clothing for everybody, because yeah, I'm practical like that. Hubby said he'd grab his journals.
This morning I found out from my neighbor some more details about the family whose house burned. They were in bed but woke up and were all able to get out unhurt. They are a young couple with a toddler and she is 7 months pregnant. They have nothing but the clothes on their backs--he was not even able to grab his glasses, without which he cannot see. I am so thankful that they are ok, and am talking with my neighbor (since she knows them) to see if there is anything I can do to help.
I do not know how the fire started.
ETA--on my morning walk with Bear we walked past what remains...I was slightly mistaken in that it was two streets over, not one, and a one-story house, not two--the hill made it look closer/bigger than it was I guess. Also it's not quite gone--there is a bit of a burned-out shell left...but nothing salvageable.
It is all a very timely reminder though--obviously to think about what is really important to us, but also to remember about fire safety: The fires that usually kill are hot and fast, not slow and smokey. Don't expect to have time to grab stuff if your house catches on fire, you will probably have to just run as you are (so don't sleep in your underwear!!). Hold your family fire drills! Never leave a fireplace or candle unattended.