"Hang up and call 911! I'm on my way" were the words I heard my husband scream as I was on the other line with his assistant last Tuesday. "The housekeeper called," the assistant said. "Your house is on fire."
Shock. Stumble. No. It can't be. There must be some mistake. This can't be happening. I hung up the phone and went back in my office. "I think I need to go home," I quietly said as my co-workers started to rally me out the door.
These are not the words that you're ever supposed to hear. Disaster is something that befalls other people, and you sympathize, you send aid, you help them recover, but it doesn't happen to you. In my mind's eye, as I tried coolly to drive, I could see the flames melting my children's toys, my computer, all the memories of my life in photo albums and irreplaceable heirlooms. I imagined being homeless, trying to explain to my children when they came home from school that we'd rebuild our life, that this was a way for a fresh start. We'd be okay. Then I thought it can't be that bad. Stop going to the darkest, bleakest possibility. After all, the fire department was already on its way. The fire would be out by the time I got home.
I called DG. He sighed, "It's okay, the fire's out. Just get home and we'll deal with what we have to deal with."
I pulled up to my house as the fire engine was pulling away. I've seen this in the movies before; the main character drives down her street like she's done a million times before and sees the fire truck in front of her house. The same pit in my stomach rose into my throat. I tried to keep from crying.
DG and my housekeeper were in the garage. Burned debris was all over the driveway. Water pooled in places and trickled down into the gutter. "Thank God you're okay," I whimpered as I threw down my things and embraced my long-time housekeeper, the woman who brings gifts for my children every new year on 3 Kings day as is the custom in her country, Mexico, the woman who has been a part of our family for 15 years. "I tried to put it out, but when I put water on it, it got bigger."
"Thank you for saving our house," I said.
We were amazingly lucky. The fire burned a pile of things we were storing by the side of our house. An old dog crate, some toddler high chairs that attach to the table, boxes, potting soil, planting pots and mulch. As the flames rose up the wall and over the roof, they only burned external items. The electric meter was burned, the tankless water heater was fried, and a ceiling spot light in the eaves was melted, but nothing structural was damaged. The fire was against the wall and never entered the house.
The fire department did a thorough investigation. They went into the attic and took temperature measurements. Our electrician came out and checked our circuit breakers that turned off during the fire, saving the house from an electrical fire. The house was fine. We were fine. In a matter of 20 minutes from the time the fire started to the time it was out, we were fine.
How could this have happened? I wondered about all the junk I piled into that space, never once thinking that it could be dangerous. The fire department thinks a spark might have charged from a battery we had stored there for an electric scooter (you know, the kind that's like a wheelchair we used when my mom visited when she could still walk a little). Maybe it was from the potting soil or fertilizer. Just a hot patch with a piece of glass that caught the sun just right on the pile of what I now know was kindling? We'll never know. They put the cause as "indeterminate."
Our lives could have been irreversibly changed by an "indeterminate" cause. The possibility of what could have happened was infinitely worse than what did. DG and I followed nearer each other for the rest of the day. I hugged the children a little tighter when I picked them up from school. I thanked our housekeeper again and again for her quick thinking. If she hadn't been there...if this had happened on a Monday or Wednesday when we were at work....
But it didn't. The forces in the universe that make things happen when they do must have been looking out for us. Call it God or whatever you want, something went right that day, and I am so grateful.