Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Uncontrolled Fire Sucks

So tough to watch all the tragedy in California right now.

I've been there... in both senses of the word "there."

I've been "there" in Southern California during fire season. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley just outside L.A. I went to a private school west of my 'hood down the 101 for my Elementary/Jr. High school years. It was evacuated a couple times due to fires that raced from Agoura to the sea following Kanan Dume Road. The school never burned (much to me and my classmates chagrin) but it came close. Hopping over 12 lanes of freeway to get to us.

A lifetime later... Superbowl Sunday 2001, here in Atlanta, the house I shared with my first "living together" boyfriend burned badly.



That's our bedroom on top and an adjacent study in the pic below that.

We'd had friends over to watch the game earlier in the day and had been making good use of the fireplace. I think we must have had it running (gas flame, gas logs) all day. It wasn't until late that night that the house caught fire though.

I used to joke that "Queer as Folk" saved my ex's life. After our friends had left and I'd gone to work he stayed up late to watch it. If he'd gone to bed at his normal time, the smoke probably would have lulled him into unconsciousness before the fire really got going.

The investigator's best guess is that there was a structural defect that developed in the chimney slowly over the 70 years the house stood there. Somehow the wood framing adjacent to the fireplace (you can see the chimney coming up through the second floor in the lower pic) became superheated and just combusted. There's also a good chance that whoever converted the attic space into living space had improperly built the staircase framing too close to the chimney but most of that evidence was lost in the blaze.

The fire probably smoldered in the wall for hours before really lighting up and breaking through a light switch at the top of the steps. When my ex tells the story, the house "burned down" but in reality it was just very badly damaged. The pics above are of the upstairs, water and smoke caused most of the damage downstairs. That was really the worst of it. In a way I wish the house had burned completely to the ground. That way everything would have been gone... clean slate. Instead we had to go in and try and decide which of the memories that survived the flames were salvageable, and which were just too far gone. Seeing the stuff that I loved damaged was much harder than just never seeing it again.

It was traumatic, but our neighbors and friends came together and helped us out... I am trying to imagine what the atmosphere in Lake Arrowhead must be like... or Castaic Lake where whole NEIGHBORHOODS are trying to deal and cope. Over 1500 homes burned to the ground. Amazing.

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5 comments:

Jason said...

Sorry to hear that you had to go through that. I couldn't imagine people watching their place go up like that.

somewhere joe said...

Those photographs were hard to look at G. I've never had to live through a serious catastrophe, but can well imagine how annihilation of your property might have been preferable to the sad sad sifting that you had to face. May it be your last.

Paul said...

It looks like a mess, even if you didn't lose everything.

I'm sure you had to find a new place to live. Quickly.

CondoBlogger said...

Paul... indeed we did. Moved into an apartment nearby so we could oversee the reconstruction. The entire second story had to be demolished and rebuild, downstairs all the floors and furniture had to go...

I didn't move back in once it was all rebuilt. We broke up while we were in the apartment. Long and kind of upsetting story. But that was the REAL loss from the fire.

Matt said...

Wow. Sorry CB ... I can't imagine going through that either. Glad you're still around. :)