“Everyone Knows Someone Who Needs This Information!” (TM)
Well, thanks to Providence, we are all here and OK after fire hit our row of arborvitae trees. More about this and why it should concern you, for July 4th, Guy Fawkes and EVERYDAY, follows, as a cautionary tale!
Life’s little adventures are meant to be shared so we all profit from the lessons learned. I appreciate being here today to relate my lessons and warnings, for sure! There was no guarantee that we would have the wonderful outcome that saw us through this adversity. Luckily, when this happened, it was daylight.
The word I want you to get in time for tomorrow, and every fireworks night after this is the following:
1) ___ supervise your children and use good judgment, yourself! This is the third neighborhood fire I have had in in 40 years which involved people sending off illegal rockets. The first nearly totaled a home about 6 away from us about 33 years ago. Next, was about 4 years ago, when it hit our back-yard neighbor (whose home was really close!). We were out of town, and couldn’t have saved anything, if it had jumped to our home. Then within last week, it finally came to our home.
2) ___ Our neighbor, Tom, saw the fire as he left for work, and it was only about 1 foot high, in the arborvitae needles, and a garden hose could no longer put it out, once he had told his wife to call 911 and get a nearby garden hose to return to use!
The whole row of trees shot flames into the air that were more than 20 feet tall, and flames raced the length of the planting, straight to our closest point, in less than 4 minutes. The first engine took 10 minutes from Carol’s first call to get there and then the firemen were amazing at how fast they got hoses off the truck, connected and started to hose the fire, but by then, the cedar roof of Tom’s garage was well involved.
3) ___ I had called in a second emergency when the roof ignited, for I knew that it could be a sustained source for fire, and at the widest, our homes are only about 12 feet apart. The first engine had not yet arrived, and I could see our home going next and Tom’s other neighbor (who also has a cedar roof) would follow fast! In the end, they sent about 7 fire engines and a paramedic crew, but people with fires on July 4th will be lucky if anyone arrives in time, as crews will be spread thin! So, you likely WILL have to defend your own home.
As the fire raced down the line of trees, it came within 7 feet of our home; burned all the siding over 3 stories and it sent toxic gases and soot all around.
The heat of the fire also impacted the area of the main electric panel (see tagged photo above) and main gas line so there will be lots to check out when the walls are opened up more.
Within less than an hour, more crews were out — utilities, damage-control, investigators, inspectors. There’s been a solid line of visits, for days, even without the insurance adjusters from all the companies etc etc.
4) ___ The fire investigators come over FAST, for their initial inspection and come again later! Tom, another neighbor, said he had heard fireworks many times the previous night, and all we can guess is that an ember from one of their careless and illegal rockets landed in the duff; proceeded over hours to grow, and finally reached true flash-point among a row of trees which are naturally laden with copious amounts of resin.
The fire inspectors noted that the heat of the fire came our way, due to the winds, but that did not stop one or more sparks making it ‘against the wind’ to ignite Tom’s quickly-flammable wood roof.
Arborvitae’s resin is like natural gasoline, and even though the line of trees was being constantly watered, and leaves were green, these plants are dangerous, and should not be sold. If you have arborvitae in your yard, remove them, as we are doing for the row on one other property line!
5) ___ Our roof is fire-resistant composite tile (not as good as the slate-style concrete tile of the home we built and lived in, for 20 years, to protect us from Mt. St. Helen’s eruption ignition); but, this time, the thinner tile bought us enough time that the fire department were there before our roof took off. Even fire-resistant roofs will ignite, if enough time and or temperature. If you have a wood roof, make sure you wet it down well for July 4th and when its time to replace it, consider something more fire-resistant. And, check everything on your property before you go to sleep.
6) ___ When Tom came to tell us there was a fire, which he could not put out, Rob dashed to see what was going on and ran back to tell me to get my Mum and I out of the house, immediately! We had one minute to start to leave and 2 minutes to accomplish it, if that! We only did it OK in that time because I got my Mum started downstairs, at her best-pace, (she’s handicapped), while I took the moment to grab her always-packed bag of meds and my photos which are set-up as an escape album (it’s a careful variety of our memories).
Mum went out to the front porch to sit, where the firemen could pick her up fast, if she needed to be further away from the house. She sat there for about 2 1/2 hours, with her meds and our most-precious memories at her side, until we had an all-clear, after all of Tom’s roof was removed; and the remaining structure was sprayed with fire retardent foam.
The inspectors told us how to watch for any flare-ups (which had happened many hours later in the first neighborhood fire I told you about, above). And, they sent a fireman with a heat-sensing infra-red gun in to search all the interior walls near the fire, from inside our home. That machine is SO sensitive, it even picks up your footprints, even when you are wearing shoes. There’s still enough “heat” coming through your soles! If he’d “said” that, I’d have wondered, but I saw our footprints on his screen!
So, we felt comfortable that our walls had nearly been breeched but were safe. We watched for re-emergence of embers, but they had hosed the area well to try to protect us from that eventuality.
7) So, to coalesce all this — DO the following:
___ Wet down your roof and all your garden plants and tree foliage well, in time for July 4th., even starting today and keeping it up until the day after the fireworks (after all, “our” ember incubated overnight!). Preferably stay home; you’ll be the one who defends your home that night!
___ Have a satchel or back-pack with a week’s current doses of your meds always packed and ready to grab. Use them last, and replace with each new batch of prescriptions. Keep your meter etc. there too, or have a second one packed. Include shelf-stable snacks in there, too, as you won’t be able to easily find food or water during the chaos of the emergency.
___ Have a quick-grab satchel of your valuables — in my case, I chose photos and camera photo cards. I left all other valuables, but have them documented in an inventory — written and photo — to leave in your safe-deposit box! If you haven’t done this, DO IT NOW!
___ Make sure your smoke-detectors work and that you have them in each bedroom, halls and kitchen, as well as garage. It’s always recommended to sleep with bedroom doors closed. Preferably have both kinds of detectors. Most units only detect one kind of fire, but you need both kinds. As I am hearing-impaired, I also have a special strobe-light smoke-detector (which requires an electrician), but it would have saved me. Have both battery operated and in house-electrical units.
Many home-improvement centers only carry one type of sensing unit — I can’t remember if it’s the type that only senses smoke or the one that senses heat. There used to be dual units, and I’m hoping there still are (even though they are more expensive, you NEED both kinds, so why not in just one unit).
After all the TV crews left us, within days, in the state capital, another home went up after someone tossed a still-burning cigarette onto the wood porch — the single Mom inside never heard a smoke detector, and luckily her neighbors came to save her via the back door. She hadn’t realized her home was already fully engulfed. She must have had the wrong kind of smoke detector for the type of fire, I guess. That’s why you need both types of detector!
___ Another thing the firemen told us: get an envelope (preferably red — use Valentines Day left-overs!), and attach it to the window next to your front door or on the window of the door. On the side you see from the outside, write “For Fire Only!” Inside the envelope: put a diagram of your home’s floor plan and mark all rooms where people sleep and highlight and describe where babies and children sleep as well as handicapped people. Mark the room “handicapped person”, “baby”, “2 toddlers” etc.
He said they are trained to look for that envelope and it may make the difference between them finding your baby in the smoke or getting someone out with time enough to be able to survive smoke inhalation!
___ you should also have a family escape plan, which you practice with your children, and they need to be taught to feel their closed door, before ever opening it and know where to meet outside. If you have a multi-story dwelling, each bedroom needs its own fire-escape metal, collapsible ladder to hang out the window.
___ start looking online for lists of fire-resistant plants. FEMA and many local authorities have lists ready for your area. Take down the hazardous plants and replace them with better ones, but all plants require care — water and pruning to help keep you safe! The plants near our siding helped deflect the heat, and protected the walls, at the distances involved for us. I expect the plants will die, but I appreciate that they were well cared for; were safe types which “bought” us Time — the most valuable gift in a fire.
___ since our fire, we have been looking to see road edges, vacant lots, ill-cared for gardens or commercial property etc. in the journey between our home and our kid’s home, and we were amazed at how much the counties involved have not used their (short) staffs to cite these land owners. Call the owners out yourself. The emergency information says grass should be no more than 2 inches high, anywhere!
___ have a hose already on a tap ready-to-go on every side of your home. If Tom’s hose had been ready, he might have been able to douse it in time. Once he couldn’t, he should have used the hose to start wetting his roof, but I think he went inside to get his wife and her “stuff”. Everyone makes choices, but him wetting the roof would have protected us all better.
Anyway, I hope at least some of you will act on this! And, if you only see this after the holiday, then still DO these steps!
Best to all — Em
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