House fire:  The Day You Won't Forget

  Our house is on fire.  Melting insulation is pouring through our ceiling, burning the floor. Iíve phoned 911, called my son to get the dog and Iíve yanked the cat out from behind the boxes in the smoke-filled room upstairs. Iíve closed the doors and turned off the main power. Iíve phoned my husband and told him to come home quick. The blaze shoots across our roof. A man with a walkie-talkie arrives and goes directly to our propane tank and shuts it off. I can hear sirens. Flames are coming out from under the shakes.  When the fire chief arrives I yell at him ďWhat took you so long?!Ē

  I wouldnít recommend yelling at the fire chief. He has better things to do than deal with you.  I apologized later Profusely. The volunteer fire department managed to save a good chunk of our home. They put out the flames. They carried computers and photo albums to safety. They even cleaned up afterwards and put a tarp over what was left. Someone found my wallet and brought it to me. A man explained that I needed to phone the insurance company. Someone else said not to leave, as I would be needed to answer questions.  

  The smell after a fire is horrendous Ė the stink of burned furniture, blankets, plastic toys and electronics. The thick soot covering everything is also filled with chemicals, and is caustic. You donít want to be in there. But at the same time you do, as youíre desperate to know whatís left of your home, what could be salvaged. But when the insurance adjuster arrives, he seals off your house. He hires a security firm to guard it. You are told that itís similar to a crime scene, and until a forensic investigation has been made, you are not allowed in.

  This was distressing, because at first we didnít grasp why we were being locked out. But from the insurance companyís point of view, it was and is necessary. The house needs to be secured and all possible theft must be ruled out. A burnt building can also be dangerous and unstable. This is all understandable now, but at the time we took it personally, feeling as if we were being considered guilty before being proven innocent.

  That same day the adjuster sat us down and had us sign something; Iím still not certain what, and I still donít know where the papers are that he gave us that day. He tape-recorded our description of what happened. I was distraught, so his questions felt confusing and intrusive. Looking back, I think we should have had a friend there with us, and for all the subsequent early meetings with both the adjuster and the companies they hired. We were in shock; we didnít know what was going on. A friend would have been able to think clearly and could have discussed things with us afterwards. They could have supplied a box to file papers in, or at least have helped us remember where we put what. A friend could also have been a witness, creating a respectful environment.

  For the moment, we needed a place to live. Friends offered us couches, but we were too overwhelmed to socialise. We stayed at a hotel; the cat ran into the woods, the security guards watched our dog. We were assured that our insurance covered a hotel and 60% of restaurant meals (and they did). But at first we paid for everything with our credit card.  What if I hadnít had my wallet? What if we had lost everything?  As it was, we wore friendsí clothes and shoes. We bought toothbrushes and my best friend brought us food and coffee.  It was three days before we were allowed into our house Ė the same day that the Restoration Company arrived. But thatís another story.

Diana Lynn



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