House fire: The Beginning
I was always the one who insisted we stop the car. We’d have to turn around and go all the way back, just to be certain the damper on our woodstove was closed. I was adamant that the stove must be out at night, and that the area around the heater stayed clear. Yet I was the one who lit the fire that threw the sparks that lit the roof that torched our home on a cold morning last February
The staircase, the roof and our son’s bedroom were incinerated. We’ve lost videos and tapes of him as a child, but we have him, and that’s all that matters. Still, I woke in the night for two months afterwards, terrified, believing I smelled smoke, and once awake, I lay wishing the fire had never happened. Wishing I’d caught it in time, wishing the garden hose hadn’t been frozen solid or that the fire extinguisher could have been of some help. And when our blackened house stood there stinking, I was left wishing I’d done what they tell you to do: document everything you own, take photos or video, and put the images in a safety deposit box. I ended up spending two months wearing a respirator and gloves, combing through blackened bits of toys and furniture, trying to identify and photograph what was lost. It’s not a job I’d recommend to anyone. But I had no other way of being certain of what was lost, and if the insurance company wanted to challenge any of our claims, we had to have proof of ownership.
Like most people, we have replacement insurance. Which means that whatever you once owned will be paid for if you replace it. If you don’t replace it you can list it and get a depreciated value. But you need to know what you owned, and believe me, it’s not easy to remember. Do you know the year and publisher of that old book? Or what lens was on your camera? Take the pictures. There are many things I wish I’d known or done before the fire. If I write them down here, perhaps it will help you.
We had an emergency route and we’d practised it. I’d even drilled a hole through a stud upstairs, attached an eyebolt, then tied on a heavy rope knotted every foot. If someone was trapped up there, they had an escape. We’d already planned where to meet. It was a good thing, having that plan. We knew we were safe and the pets were with us.
I wished I'd read our insurance policy. Like others, I thought we were covered with replacement insurance. That means our house would be replaced, right? Check again. If you live in an older house, and you need to rebuild, you will need to upgrade to present-day building standards. Your house might have 2 x 4 studs, but now you need 2 x 6. If you don’t have Bylaws Insurance, which will cover the difference in cost, you’ll be paying for that yourself. We also have separate studio buildings, listed on our policy. Our work isn’t based in our house. But if yours is, you might want to go take a look at your papers. Insurance companies aren’t quite as understanding after a fire as they may seem beforehand.
One last thing. We’d just spent ten thousand on a new cedar roof. We’d had hand-split shakes ever since my husband built the place 30 years ago, and we loved the way they looked – the shining richness of them. But cedar looks horrific when it burns. Metal roofs look great to me now.