House fire: The Beginning

   I was always the one who insisted we stop the car. Wed 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 sons bedroom were incinerated. Weve lost videos and tapes of him as a child, but we have him, and thats 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 Id caught it in time, wishing the garden hose hadnt 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 Id 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. Its not a job Id 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 dont replace it you can list it and get a depreciated value. But you need to know what you owned, and believe me, its 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 Id known or done before the fire. If I write them down here, perhaps it will help you. 

  We had an emergency route and wed practised it.  Id 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. Wed 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 dont have Bylaws Insurance, which will cover the difference in cost, youll be paying for that yourself.  We also have separate studio buildings, listed on our policy.  Our work isnt based in our house. But if yours is, you might want to go take a look at your papers. Insurance companies arent quite as understanding after a fire as they may seem beforehand.   

  One last thing. Wed just spent ten thousand on a new cedar roof.  Wed 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.

Diana Lynn



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