The Watchman

The Watchman

Saturday, July 3, 2010

From Ashes - Blessings

Today marks one week since our home burned to the ground. Finally I feel like we may be regaining some control and order in our life. My children's sense of security and stability have been truly shaken. And the restoration of that sense of security has been our number one priority over this last week as we have worked to recoup from the devastation that has become our life.

When I first thought about starting a blog, I wanted to write something profound. I have always enjoyed writing; whether it be stories, poetry or persuasive articles. Much of my career has focused on my ability to express myself - reaching out to others in a way that they can understand. I remember in high school as I read the "great" works of literature, I dreamed that one day students would sit in those same desks and discuss me. What was the author trying to impart? What literary tools did the author employ?....

Now I understand that the true legacy I can leave this world is not a body of literary work to be systematically dissected intellectually by individuals who use history and literary devices as a way to determine meaning. My legacy is my children - the strength and integrity with which they direct their lives; and my legacy is the impact the way I live my life will have on those that surround me.

As in most life alterating events, Saturday, June 26th, 2010, started out as nothing truly exceptional. There were no stars in the heavens, the ground didn't shake, we didn't hear the fanfare of trumpets proclaiming that life as we knew it would never be the same again. Instead, we cheered for my daughter at her swim meet, did some shopping, negotiated that same daughter would try to dress a little more like a girl and not raid her brothers' closet for her wardrobe, fussed around the house, etc. It was hot outside, too hot to work in the yard or even for running errands, so we retreated to our home to enjoy the comforts of central air.

At approximately five o'clock PM, the peace that was our home was shattered by our two little girls screaming that there was a fire outside. My husband and I went out the front door to see what was going on. We were met by a snake-like tongue of fire rounding the corner of our carport and rolling along the front of our home. We ran back inside calling to our children to get out the back. I grabbed a phone to dial 911 and somehow the dogs leashes appeared in my hands. Rick grabbed the girls, hollered to our son to get the hose on the back of the house and I tried to get the dogs.

Our home had a door leading to the outside from almost every room. This is probably what saved our lives, since within a matter of minutes our safe haven was filled with the most horrible, thick, black, acrid tasting smoke I have ever experienced.

I have experienced fires many times in my life. While I was growing up, our neighbor would routinely start the area between our homes on fire as a way to clear the dead and overgrown materials. I remember seeing a wall of flames heading towards my parents home, but everyone was there with hoses and water and the flames did not reach our fenceline. On another occasion, our washing machine started a small fire in the basement of our home, and while we did have to evacuate, the fire was easily put out with a fire extinguisher.

The monster that overtook our home on this Saturday evening was neither benign nor easily controlled. Its purpose was to destroy, and even though it had been innocently set free, it quickly showed all who was in control.

By the time I had dialed 911 and secured the leashes on the dogs; my husband had gotten our daughters and son out of our home. I tried to get the dogs to leave, but by now the fire had rounded the hillside and was approaching the rear of the home as well. Our 15-year old son stood valiantly with the garden hose trying to keep the flames back until we could all exit, but the sight of that wall of flames was too much for our dog Miley and she twisted out of her collar and ran back into the house. Someone, I don't know who, grabbed our other dog Dancer from me, and I turned to recatch Miley. She had run back into what had always been safety and security, a place of shelter; away from the invading monster of fire. I took just a few steps back into our former haven, but it took only a couple of breaths of that air burning my lungs to let me know that if I pursued our dog, I would not live. I called to her, but she refused to come and so I had to leave. I know I will always wonder what I could have done differently.

From the first call of fire from our girls to our evacuating our home, I don't believe that even five minutes passed. I've thought of checking with the dispatch logs to see how long between my first call reporting the fire and my subsequent call letting them know we were out. But I have decided that there really would be no purpose. All the time we had spent planning what to do in such an emergency worked in that we all made it out alive. We may only have had the clothes on our backs and no shoes on our feet, but we were alive and together.

It is a week later and our house is still burning. The fire department did an incredible job in protecting the surrounding homes, but we knew when we left that our home was gone. What was once a place of great joy and peace for us had to be torn to the ground in an effort to contain the monster, but the monster will not be silenced and still continues to show it is not easily tamed. Except for some odds and ends, everything we had spent twenty-two years working to build materially is gone, but our family is safe and we are together.

Most of all, we have experienced what few ever get to experience while alive - an overwhelming outpouring of love from our fellow human beings. There was a picture taken by our local paper that shows my husband sitting on the ground of our neighbors' yard with our home burning in the background. It has become symbolic to me of this journey we are now embarking on. It shows him surrounded by people who at times may not get along, who may not even know each other, but who love us. These are not our family by birth, but are our family through the human experience. We have watched people put aside their differences in order to help and support us. We watched our neighbors and acquaintances put aside concern for their appearance and the condition of their "best" clothes to help us escape and stop the fire from spreading. We have watched individuals step outside of their comfort zone in order to accomplish things on our behalf. While we would never have wished for this experience, we are overcome with the daily miracles we are witnessing in our behalf.

Within just a couple of hours of the fire, my mother-in-law's home was filled with clothing, bedding, toys for our children and lots and lots of hugs. We had offers of places to stay, use of vehicles and ideas for helping us rebuild our lives. The newspaper ran an article about the fire and quotes from those interviewed were like those usually heard in an eulogy. Our phones did not stop ringing.

A week later we are in house that we will turn into a home as we proceed to rebuild our life. We are surrounded with things that were given to us or purchased with money generously given as well. These are not the familiar things of a week ago, but they bring us comfort because we know that they come from love. Our life is now lists - it is helping to return order and security. As my husband said, " Our life before was great, we couldn't imagine it being better. Right now life is good, but it will be great again."


  1. What a wondeful blog of hope and courage. Ann, you truly are a writer! Have you ever thought of putting your talent to use? The Lord truly loves you, and you can certainly see that in your blog!


  2. I continue to be so grateful that you are all safe- and loved in your 'new' community. I'm sorry for what was lost but I know there are silver linings everywhere- including the opportunity to know how caring friends and strangers can be.

  3. Ann, you are an excellent writer. I write this through tears...
    You are also an amazing woman and you live in quite an amazing community. What a terrifying experience you have all had. I am so sorry about Miley. I am SO glad that the rest of your family got out alive! That was much, much too close.
    Through it all, your faith remains, and gets stronger each day. That is obvious.
    May the Lord continue to bless your family with continued strength, comfort and guidance.