Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hearth and Home, Revisited.

Monday, June 30, 2008: Andy and Michele sign the papers and spend the first night in their new home. One of the major selling points of the new place is a cast iron wood stove.

Wednesday, October 18, 2008: Andy lights the inaugural fire in the cast iron wood stove.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008: Michele stuffs cardboard and Christmas wrap into the wood stove, which ignite, whisk up the flue, and cause a minor chimney fire. Michele stands alone, barefoot, in the icy street, watching flames spurt from the top of her chimney, thanking God that it was a rainy night.

Summer, 2009: Chimney is cleaned and repaired.

Friday, December 18, 2009

10:30 p.m.: Michele goes to bed early, but can't sleep because something smells weird. Michele goes downstairs. Apart from the smell, everything seems okay, so Michele polishes off the end of a fat novel.

1:00 a.m.: Novel finished, Michele goes upstairs. The smell is stronger, and the upper floors are hazy with smoke. Michele opens a window to install a fan to draw out some of the smoke, and sees smoke billowing up from below. Racing downstairs, Michele runs outside and around the corner of the house, where she finds a flaming hole in the siding directly behind the woodstove. Michele frantically calls 911 and begins to wake the household.

1:05 a.m.: Brian bounds out of bed, wakes Conor, and begins to evacuate his little sisters. Michele heads to the third floor to wake Andy and Scott. Michele and Scott evacuate children. Andy comes downstairs, evaluates the fire, and fills a bucket to douse the fire.

1:10 a.m.: Emergency crews are beginning to arrive. We are sending all the children down the back staircase into the waiting van. We think we have everybody, so Michele goes out to the van. Somebody asks, "Where's Natalie?" We have forgotten Natalie. Scott races in, and retrieves Natalie from the master bedroom, where she has been left alone. Everybody assumed that somebody else carried her out.

1:12 a.m.: Back in the van, somebody asks, "Where's Theresa?" Theresa, awakened by Brian and told very plainly by Mom to "go down the back steps and into the van," is still very sleepy, and angry at being awakened. While we think she obeys and goes out to the van, in reality she goes back downstairs. Scott goes back in, and after several tense minutes he finds her - under the one of the twins' beds. At last the head count in the van is complete.

1:15 - 3:30 a.m.: We have grabbed enough blankets, coats and shoes to make everybody comfortable on this frigid night, so Michele drives everybody away in shell-shocked, anxious silence. We have nowhere to go at this hour, so we just drive slowly through the streets until we find ourselves parked outside a nearby chapel. There we sit, talking, speculating, praying, and yes, even joking about what might happen next, until we get the call from Scott that it is okay to come back.

4:00 a.m. The firefighters extinguished the blaze within 15 minutes of arriving, but several other walls had to be opened to ensure that it was not spreading. We are allowed to re-enter the house and sleep there that same night, although most of us are too scared to sleep easily. Andy stays downstairs in the living room as a sentry, and the rest of us are on the third floor, as far away from the fire as possible. Michele's king-sized bed that night accommodates Clare, Theresa, Natalie, Noelle & Michele, all sleeping sardine-style, with Brian stretching out across the bottom of the bed. Conor and Scott sleep in the rear part of the third floor, close to the rear entrance, and Sarah falls asleep at a friend's house since she couldn't get back to the house with all the streets blocked by emergency crews.
The outside, where the fire burned through the siding. If you click on the picture and look closely, you can see the crack in the pipe in the wall that started the fire.

Wednesday, December 29, 2009: It is the coldest week of the winter so far, and our house has been decidedly chilly between the absence of our wood fire and the large sections of exposed wall. A repair crew begins the weeks of repairing the interior damage and replacing the siding, putting insulation board up behind it as well.

The wall that was torn out in the room above the fire.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010: The chimney specialist finally comes to make the repairs and upgrades necessary for us to safely install a new wood stove.

Friday, January 29, 2010: The chimney work is nearly complete and the new wood stove Andy selected is delivered. Brian, Andy, & Michele assemble the stove and put it in place, awaiting complete installation.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

6:30 a.m.: Andy returns home from working night shift, and Michele wakes the six youngest children to go to a swim meet.

2:30 p.m.: The family returns home to find a neat, cozy living room with a small fire burning in the newly installed wood stove!

5:00 p.m.: Andy leaves for his next night shift.

10:30 p.m.: After burning two small test fires, Michele loads up the woodbox for the first big fire. Once the stove heats up to nearly 500 degrees, it begins to emit fumes. This is normal for a new stove - the paint and caulk are still curing - but to Michele it smells exactly like the weird smell that started this whole thing. Panic attack ensues. Michele spends the next 5 hours obsessively monitoring the temperature of the wood stove, feeling the walls for any signs of heat, and checking all the windows for any signs of unexpected smoke.

3:30 a.m.: Michele reluctantly falls asleep from sheer mental and emotional exhaustion.

Sunday, January 31, 2010, 9:30 a.m.: Michele wakes up. The house is still standing. Michele spends the next two days reading the manual, fiddling with the air controls, and calling Andy at work every ten minutes while learning how to control this fiery beast that Andy first selected without consulting her, then abandoned her with while he was on the night shift. Thoughtless jerk.

Monday, February 2, 2010, 11:30 p.m.: Michele types this blog entry while basking in the glow of this awesome wood stove. Monday's spaghetti and sauce were prepared on the wood stove, and Tuesday's beef stew will be slowly simmering overnight. No electricity required. How cool is that?

Now if it would only snow, we'd be ready for a blizzard and a blackout.

It really is beastly big. The markings on the side of the stove are just shadows from the lamp in the corner. I love how much wood the wood hoop holds, and how neatly, compared to the rubbermaid tub method we used to use.

It is a step-top with a fireview window.

Daddy and Natalie soaking up the warmth and the glow.


  1. What? WHAT?! You had a fire right before Christmas and you're just now talking about it? Oh. My. WORD!!

    You've got your own version of "Home Alone" with your girls not making it to the van. What a story!

    I don't trust our woodstove any more.

  2. It was partly because I was too busy with everything else to sit down and gather my thoughts, and partly because I was waiting to get some pictures when everything was all wrapped up.

    I am fully convinced that if we hadn't had as much time to get out as we did that we would have lost somebody, for sure. It's a sobering thought that has made me give them extra hugs since then.

    I don't trust it, either, but I'm putting my trust in God instead. NOT easy!