This was supposed to be a post detailing how Jeff and I, along with his dad and nephew plus his nephew's friend I had all picked up from Pennsylvania Wednesday afternoon, spent the last several days in a truly kick-ass cleanup and beautification project here in Mayhem Acres. Trees were cut, brush removed, dumptruck loads of mulch spread, debris chipped and shredded, you name it. Not only was a lot of work to be done, but time off to get good food, play video games, watch movies and go shopping and sightseeing in the downtime hours. It was something we had planned months ago to coincide with the arrival of spring as well as spring break from school. We were finally to attend to yard damage and general neglect going way back before the blizzard of 2010 that brought down big trees, spoiled landscaping and an accumulation of tasks that had been put on hold because of health issues and injuries and all manner of problems we'd been beset with. Lemme tell ya, we definitely got to a great start. We tromped outside after a hearty breakfast on Thursday morning and fell into a cooperation of work duties with an almost military-like efficiency. By that afternoon, the northeastern quadrant of Mayhem Acres was entirely different. We began Friday in much the same way, albeit a bit sore from the previous day's exertions. Cleanup began to turn to tune-up, as debris was hauled away and chipped, areas brush-cut and hit with the flamethrower to sterilize the grounds against weeds and a nice thick layer of mulch put down. We ended the day a bit early seeing we were way ahead of our informal schedule, and another load of mulch was ordered and brought in for Saturday morning's festivities. We were all collectively surprised what two well-fed teenagers, two old guys with health issues and one old man with a sense of effort even he was surprised with having could accomplish. We headed into the house that evening thinking we could get the work done early enough on Saturday that the rest of that day would likely be spent going out on the town for fun, frolic, shopping, eating and sightseeing. Everyone slept like logs. Then on Saturday morning, around 8am, the phone rang.
Jeff's parents' house was on fire.
We were out of the house and on the road in only a few minutes, and I drove at (quite) extra-legal speeds in the big truck to get back to PA as fast as we could. A trip that normally takes over two and a half hours on a good day of traffic (and nearly 4 hours Wednesday due to accidents and such) was done in slightly under two. While on the way back, Jeff and his dad were on the phones, and we were coordinating with the fire departments, calling insurance agents, notifying people and all manner of of tasks while traveling 95+mph at times. Speed was limited by traffic and the built-in speed limiter in the truck. Despite all the talking to the people on scene, we still couldn't be prepared for seeing smoke in the air 20 miles or more away and the smoldering shell of the burned out house. We had been spared from seeing the actual blaze, but I obtained the full set of photos from the fire department photographer (always carry a thumb drive!). This is what they
saw when they rolled up:
The house is a total loss, and practically all the contents were incinerated. Because Jeff's parents live practically in the middle of nowhere, with the closest fire department being at least 10 miles away, the need for water to fight a fire having to be trucked in by tankers and the general time delays from witness to calling to dispatch to arrival and setup, the majority of the house was consumed before the first water hit the fire. The focus also moved to preventing fire and heat damage to Dad's truck as well as our travel trailer which was being stored in the driveway for the winter. Despite being about fifty feet from the house, both the truck and trailer sustained damage just from the radiated heat, which melted plastic parts on both vehicles as well as buckling the aluminum siding on the trailer. By the time we arrived at the scene the fires were mostly out and the firefighters were removing charred furniture and other objects from the house as they doused hotspots.
Once the danger of fire subsided, we were able to look at the damage up close. The living room and one bedroom had collapsed into the basement, and nothing the firefighters brought out from any area of the house wasn't burnt, charred, melted or coated black by acrid smoke. Surprisingly, the firemen allowed me and others into the more stable parts of the structure to search for belongings ("Watch out for that hole in the floor"). Two of the local newspapers were on site, gathering information to spin into stories fit for their readership. We began to find bits and pieces of jewelry, trinkets, objects of daily life, etc. Firefighters managed to extract the cabinet containing Dad's cabinet containing antique rifles and shotguns while fighting the blaze. The heavy wooden desk, chest and dresser, despite being badly charred, protected some treasures from incineration. A tightly closed jewelry box held a few bits of his mom's necklaces and such but the smoke managed to get inside even there. As the day wore on and the firefighters left, I kept digging for more. I did manage to find a box containing wills, deeds and other important documents that were in practically perfect condition despite the nasty smell. Jeff, Dad, Jeff's brother-in-law and sister also managed to pluck more items from the wreckage, easing the feeling of total loss and giving a bit of hope to Dad, still shocked at all that happened that day.
The firefighters and subsequent investigating personnel were unable to pin down a cause of the fire. Even myself, having had a bit of fire prevention, fighting and investigation training through work in the past couldn't make sense of the wreckage. The house was a double-wide mobile home on a block foundation basement and such structures always burn quickly with intense heat. The roof was two layers of metal which acted as a "lid" keeping the fire from burning through the roof and ventilating the rest of the rooms, instead bottling the flames up and making them spread from end-to end in no time. There wasn't anything left of the entire structure to determine where it had started. "Unknown origin."
I am always amazed at how people manage to operate during times of stress despite not having prior experience in it. We managed to call in all the utilities to have them turned off. Insurance companies were called in, More family and friends were notified. We cooperated in gathering retrieved belongings together and made lists of contents of each room as we remembered. Fire personnel, police, and many other people on scene in a professional capacity were helpful and courteous. But I was not prepared for the outpouring of help, kind words and assistance that was coming throughout the day from friends, neighbors and acquaintances. The Amish of the area, with whom Dad has a tight relationship due to his "job" acting as transportation, and whom always had a lot of respect from myself, were ready to step in and begin the cleanup and rebuilding that very same day
. While a process of assessment has to be done by the insurance companies, this should be done in the next day or two and by Saturday, the wreckage should be packed into big roll-off dumpsters. The agents and specialists from Erie Insurance were on site Sunday morning, and in a couple hours time not only assuaged Dad's fears and concerns, but had him pointed in a direction of reestablishing a home and life with a check for immediate accommodation, clothing and food. Enough money should be on hand soon to pay the outstanding loan (this is done automatically and foremost) put up a new building and furnish with all the basic items needed. I'm sure that between all the amazing offers of help and assistance coming from individuals, groups and churches, Dad should be able to resume a somewhat normal life in several months' time.
It should be noted that Jeff's mom is currently in a nursing home. While this is sadly due to the ongoing care for Alzheimer's, and she is no longer in the frame of mind to comprehend what had happened, she was away and safe from the ordeal. The biggest silver lining in this is the fact that we had Dad safe with us at the time. The obviously fast and unpredictable fire could have caused a lot more damage to more than a replaceable house.
More to come as I can manage...