Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
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Hello, and welcome to Aphelion Webzine!

In which Casa Vila catches fire...

What would you reach for first when you wake up to the sight of your house on fire? Your pants, or a fire extinguisher?

At 6 AM on Sunday morning, the 10th of June 2007, I was faced with that choice. It seems that I made the correct one, now that the smoke has cleared.

When the alarm clock went off, I thought the worst the day had to offer was 12 hours of overtime at work. But I was wrong. Seconds after awakening, Lyn and I heard the sound of glass shattering and wind chimes hitting the floor. The first thing that we thought was that the poodle had blundered into something and caused it to fall over. We looked over at the bedroom door and saw, instead of the steady whit light of the desk lamp in the office, an orange, flickering glow. Leaping from the bed, we discovered a wall of flame centered on the one window in our home office. I uttered one short, sharp expletive, and promptly stopped thinking altogether.

As an aside, "Altogether" could also be used to describe my state of dress at that moment. I will just say that as a married man, I don't see any need for pajamas.

It seems that at about the same instant that my alarm clock at gone off, the small plastic electric fan that was in the office window had shorted out and caught fire. By the time I got out of bed and looked into the office, the window curtains had blazed up and the window frame itself had begun to char. After uttering the, purely symbolic, expletive, I ran to the kitchen for the household fire extinguisher. Grabbing it, I then ran back to the office and proceeded to hose the fire down with the dry chemical ABC type fire extinguisher.

Well, I say that I ran. My wife is of the opinion that I teleported to the kitchen and back. She ran to the living room and snatched up the phone to call 911. She swears that she didn't see me going in either direction as she pelted down the hallway, leapt the baby gate that we use to keep the dog out of the living room and kitchen during the night, and lunged for the telephone. By the time that Lyn had the 911 operator on the phone, I was heaving a sigh of relief over having put out the fire, then coughing a bit from the smoke that I had breathed - once I remembered to breathe, that is.

Within moments, members of the two nearest local fire departments began to arrive. By that time, Lyn was out in the yard with the dog, as per the 911 operator's instructions. Well, sort of as instructed. Lyn was told to get out of the house and leave me to save the dog and myself. Yes, I know that sounds a bit cold hearted, but those telephone responders are trained to tell people who call to save themselves and wait for the firemen, police, etc. to do the rescues that they are trained to do. My wife did the right thing. She saved herself and the dog, and allowed me to fight the fire secure in the knowledge that she was outside and out of danger.

From outside the house, Lyn saw huge billows of smoke pouring out of the office window, and she feared the worst. But what she saw was the chemicals from the fire extinguisher, choking out the fire and gushing out the open window. By the time the first firemen entered the house, I had remembered to go and put on a pair of pants.

Thankfully for our computers and books, it wasn't necessary for the firemen to bring in their water hoses. They carried out the smoldering fan, the guitar amplifier that it had been sitting upon, a spare computer keyboard, and a synthesizer that had been underneath the window and had been partly melted by the fire. Some still-smoldering papers from my desk were tossed out the window also. An IR imager was brought in to search for hot spots that might re-ignite the blaze. Once all had been declared safe, an accident report was filled out and the firemen departed. Then I called our insurance agent and began taking photographs of the damage.

Here is a view of the window itself:

Notice the shattered panes of glass, the melted headphones and fly swatter hanging on the side of the desk, and the desk lamp sticking out of the window.

And the ruined artwork:

This is the most disheartening bit of damage. My hand drawn color map of the alien planet that most of my science fiction stories take place upon. Thankfully, there should be some large-scale photos and scans safe online that can be copied and perhaps later to be printed out as a replacement. The original black and white xerox copies survived the fire with only a small amount of smoke damage.

So let that be a lesson to you. Prepare for emergencies, buy fire extinguishers and smoke detectors for your home. Keep good batteries in your smoke detectors. Learn how to use your fire extinguishers. Remember to grab your pants when you have time, seconds count when faced with a fire that is just beginning.

Always remember that you need to run out of the house if the fire is too big for you to fight. Things can be replaced. You and your loved ones cannot.

This photo shows my new work area:

The office sports a fresh coat of paint, a new window, and the new carpet has been laid down. We'll have to do touch-up work on the paint, figuring out how we might have to rearrange the desks, bookshelves, and deciding if we'll have room to move some file cabinets into the office to cut down on the future levels of clutter-paperwork. Then we'll see where the artwork and photos can be hung. So far, the desks and bookshelves are set where we want them, but we may decide to move things around after a few weeks if a better pattern comes to mind. Here's a photo of Lyn's new work area:

I've still got firearms and edged weapons to clean before we re-hang the sword racks in the master bedroom. We've already replaced the fire extinguishers. Now there is one in the office, one in the kitchen, and one in the shed outside. We want all the possibilities covered in case of any future problems.

Of course, the contractors have all been paid by the insurance company, but Lyn and I have yet to receive a check for the personal property losses that we'll need to replace. I foresee several more weeks of retail therapy and interior decorating left to us once that check comes in. Lyn has found and ordered some of the things that she wants to include in the redecorating. I've thought up a few little touches that should make it easier to re-hang curtains and/or blinds as well as to protect the new carpet from future stains that could be caused by the office furnishings.

We thank everyone for their concern and support during this trying time. With luck, Casa Vila will soon not only be back to normal, but even better than before. Thank you, each and every one of you, very much.