House fire: Entry
It's the third day after the fire. The fire department, building inspector and insurance company have given us the all clear to enter our home. We arrive, still sleepless, from our hotel to hear the sound of shattering glass. Three strangers are in our kitchen throwing every edible thing they can find into garbage bags.
One of the papers we signed on the day of the fire was an agreement with the insurance company that we would secure our possessions from any further harm. This means that we signed a release that allows a restoration company to pack up, clean and store all our (unburned) goods until we'll be ready for them to be returned. For reasons of common sense our food was contaminated with a slurry of soot the restoration company disposes of comestibles immediately. Everything in the fridge and pantry was efficiently tossed even canned and bottled goods, and homegrown fruits from our garden.
I walk into the kitchen and gawk. The scene appears chaotic. Three women work in a blackened room, their faces smudged with soot, the smell of burned furniture mixing with the odour of pickles and spices. They seemed unfazed and work rapidly, writing down the contents of each bottle before dropping it with a crash into a bag. They are a cheerful group and must have wondered why I stare at them stunned. There's nothing like a fire to give you complete synapse collapse.
I want to leave the scene, but force myself to stay. The women in the clean-up crew are friendly, but in the darkness they cant tell the difference between what is important to us and what can easily be replaced. I am glad to catch some of my vintage spice jars before they were trashed. I manage to squeak "our pottery is kind of special to us" and also manage to rescue a few jars of sun dried tomatoes before they are tossed. But mostly it is a scene that is hard to bear so much ruined by the fire.
A few weeks later, we are sent a large stack of forms. It is the kitchen inventory that the women had written up. Naively, we'd thought the insurance company would just give us a flat figure for all that stuff. Nope. In order to be partially reimbursed, we have to price approximately 600 items (and this is just the kitchen). Thrifty's has an on-line grocery service in Victoria, so we use my mum's account to find some prices. But mostly it is footwork. Armed with a clipboard and a pen, my husband and I walk the aisles of grocery stores, pharmacies, and coffee shops. We scour shelves for prices, and try to act inconspicuous. All the prices we gathered then had to be written onto the forms. And this, it turns out, was easy compared to what lay ahead of us.
On the fourth day the rest of the crew come and empty our house of everything salvageable. The young men assure us, as they toss our books into boxes, that everything will be well taken care of. "Not to worry they say, as they stuff my very personal feminine things into a bag. "You wouldn't believe what we can clean" enthuses another, as he drags our sodden carpet out to the van. He's right, I still can't believe it.
Everything that wasn't burnt was taken away. Our belongings are being stored for us in a warehouse in Esquimalt. That was four months ago. I'm still wondering what survived and what didn't. The few things that have been returned to us are not the same as they were. Oddly enough, they look as if they've been through a fire. I'm still not certain whether I should buy another coffee pot or whether ours survived, or what happened to our son's textbooks that were on the kitchen table. Someday we will know. But for now we wait for our home to be rebuilt and for some order to come back into our lives.