When My House Burned Down & Kitchen Fire Safety

Fire.  That word alone is the most terrifying thought in the world to me. 

Fire safety has been a issue to me for the past few years but it wasn’t until a few nights ago when our apartment building’s fire alarm system went off 5 times during 1:30-3:00AM that left my hands shaking, heart beating quickly and pacing our loft (with kitties in arms) that I knew this had to be a post.  When I spoke with Matthew the next morning discussing the best fire practices for our living space, what to do, when to stop and get out of there, etc that he said “You should do a post about this”.  And that was a brilliant idea.  When a fire hits, we tend to panic.   We will stop.  We will fill up with fear.  We might even freeze.  We all need to be prepared incase of a fire to protect ourselves, our family, our homes and our neighbors. 

Hearing about a fire is pretty awful, but it wasn’t until it touched me personally that I knew how heart breaking and life shattering a fire can be.  Let me take you back to January, 2011. I was asleep when my phone rang during the middle of the night.  When you look at the phone and see it’s a family member calling you at 4AM, you know this will not be good.  The phone call went like this:
“Hello?”
“Pamela, it’s your brother.”
“What’s wrong?”
“Don’t freak out, Dad is OK, but the house burned down.”
Enter tears, the tugging of the heart and Matthew’s arms immediately wrapping around me as I sobbed in bed.  

Immediately the phone calls started coming in from my sister and my mother while all I could think about was getting to hear my father’s voice.  Everyone told me it was all over the news so immediately I jumped on the TV stations from Central/Northern Pennsylvania and saw this on the front page:
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My heart sunk.  The fire was coming out from my brother’s bedroom that I spent so many years in listening to the Beastie Boys while shooting nerf basketballs at him. The hours we played Nintendo in this bedroom was unimaginable.  But there it was. 

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Next came this photo and that’s probably where I really lost it.  Not only is the house on fire, but the truck now outside is.  My brother took this photo right when the fire departments arrived.  

 

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Later scene on the front of the newspaper, the next morning.  That’s my brother in the picture.  

That was my house.  That was truly my house.  I might have moved away and moved around but the only house to date that was ever “mine” was that one.  I lived in that house from the time I was born to the time I went to college.   The phone number of that house will always be the most remembered digits in my head.

 So what happened?  During the middle of the night the house next door to mine lit on fire, it started in the kitchen.  Then it quickly spread.  It left 5 houses homeless.  It spread quickly because they are row homes and because it was in the single digits that January night so firefighters were battling ice.   My dad who doesn’t have the best hearing was asleep when he finally woke up from the blaze.  Everyone from the other houses were already out wondering when my dad was going to come out of the front door.  He later told me that as he left his bedroom, down the steep stairs of the house,  around the middle room and finally out the front door where someone was waiting to grab him and pull him out, fire was blazing on the walls.  He saw fire on the walls in his house that all his children were raised in.  To this day every time I imagine my dad in that situation it breaks my heart and my throat tightens up.

After they pulled my dad from the house, with nothing left, he couldn’t even grab his cane, they rushed him up the street and someone threw a winter coat on him.  

 I was finally able to speak to my dad on the telephone after the good people at the Red Cross and neighbors supplied him slippers, a coat and a gift card for a few nights at a local hotel.   As soon as we heard each others voices we both started crying.  I just wanted to grab him through the telephone and give him a great big hug.  And that’s what I did a few hours later after I immediately ran to Port Authority, jumped on a bus and made my trip back.   I found my dad at the hotel, sitting, not having any of his own belongings.  And I just wrapped my arms around my dad, one of my best friends for life and just told him I loved him. 

After I saw my dad my sister took me to see the damages.  The fire trucks were still there the following evening as little blazes would come here or there.   As soon as we arrived on the hill where I spent 18 years of my life rolling Matchboxes down the pavement, playing kickball that left all neighbors angry at us kicking balls at their cars and organizing neighborhood kids bingo games I saw what was left of the house.  And then I smelled the fire.   That smell will stick with me forever.  Whenever I smell anything remotely to burning, I become paranoid.   Is someone outside barbecuing or is that a fire?  I have to check it out.  

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When walking down that icy sidewalk to look at my past home this was laying in the street.  I wish I could have grabbed it and removed the smell.  That was my couch’s pillow.  That couch was a highlight when my parents bought it one year.  It was bold red plaid and it matched nothing in the home, but it was gorgeous and we all loved it.

The next day I ventured back to the house to look at it during the day time, see old neighbors who all had that look of pity on their faces and see if I could possibly savage anything alongside my brother.   I think it’s therapeutic to talk about things like this so I wanted to share these pictures with you.  Days after these pictures were taken the houses were leveled to the ground where now nothing exists but grass. 
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First, that’s my bedroom.  Even though it no longer exists, I still call it mine.   My bedroom had all my treasures down to my Hawaiian girl sheets, family photos and notebooks full of my first 18 years of my life.   All now gone. 

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You can see the roof no longer exists in my brother’s bedroom.

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A eerie curtain hangs from my dad’s bedroom. 

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The kitchen where I made sugar cookies every Christmas and halupkies a few times a month with my mom. 

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The kitchen sink and stove.

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The ceiling of the first floor or what was left.

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Ice hanging off the existing ceiling pieces.

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My front house window that no longer existed.

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My living room that I tried to learn how to ride a bicycle in but fell off and hit my head making my babysitter panic and call my parents on their date night. 

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Me standing on a wall that used to exist.

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The middle room of the house.  Above this is the upstairs which I wasn’t allowed to see.

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All my baby photos and books are gone, family photo albums gone forever, but somehow this pin of my Kindergarten picture made it out.   I owe it to the stylish bow-tie that a 6 year old wore decided to wear for picture day and unfortunately messed up her own bangs right before the photo was taken. 

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Also this cat garden sign survived.  I got this custom made for my Father one year because he’s in love with Xanadu (and vice versa) and even though Xanadu didn’t live there, in his heart Xanadu ruled his home.

The experience was life changing and gloomy for quite some time.  Many families lost their homes that night but thankfully noone was seriously injured.  The Red Cross, the Community, family and firefighters were extra nice to my dad and I thank them for that. I sent the firefighters Junior’s NYC cheesecake weeks later as a well deserved thank you.   

The heart warming part of this story? After my dad lived in a hotel for 8 months (!) while home owners insurance finally settled, my father was able to buy a home he always wanted.   One that had a great big yard where he could grow his massive amounts of tomatoes and peppers and that had a garage that he could wash his car outside of.  Car washing was one of my dads hobbies I remember not enjoying as a kid as I was always selected  to help him pull the hose up from the basement which happened somehow every Saturday morning while I was trying to eat cinnamon rolls and watch Save By The Bell.

And guess what exists in his front yard now? Yup, the Xanadu cat sign.  She pretty much has a shrine in one the front yard beds.

 In this yard he’s able to put as many santa wearing bears and cats and disco balls as he wishes now.   Many people ask where I get my creativity from? My dad.

So with that, let’s talk fire safety.  The fire started next door in the kitchen.  Who knows the real cause, but we know it came from the stove in some way.   Fires start in the kitchen more than any other place in the home.  Although fires can’t be prevented completely we can minimize fire risks to keep our families safe.   Two out of three reported home-cooking fires start with the range or stove.  Let’s be prepared in case we ever have to face that moment.

Prevention Tips:

Install a smoke detector.  Make sure it isn’t installed somewhere where it always is going to go off during cooking but close enough.  Install a smoke alarm near the kitchen, on each level of the home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms.  Test it, make sure it’s working. Replace your batteries.   

Have a fire extinguisher nearby. I keep mine right next to the stove in a bottom cabinet.  I can get to it within 1 second (trust me, I practice).   Replace your extinguisher immediately if needed.  Learn how to work it, learn the PASS system – pull, aim, squeeze and sweep. I learned that as a kid and I will never forget it. Educate your kids about this.  If you contact your local fire department they will even show you how to use a fire extinguisher.  

Unplug electric appliances when not in use. Toaster ovens, mixers, coffee makers, and so on, continue to draw electricity even when they’re not turned on. So if the wiring is old or faulty, or if the thermostat overheats, a fire could break out.

Use caution when lighting the pilot light or burner on a gas stove.

Don’t use metal in the microwave.  Ever.

Don’t overfill pots or pans with oil or grease. They can splatter and cause a fire.

Always roll up long sleeves and tie back long hair when cooking.   Need to reach to the cabinet above the stove?  Be careful.  Make sure your apron isn’t even close to a burner that is on.  

Keep dish towels, pot holders, and paper towels away from the stove. Also curtains, paper bags, food packaging, wooden utensils.   If your burner is left on by accident, these can light on fire.

Keep your stovetop, burners and oven clean.  

Plug it directly in.  Plug microwave ovens and other cooking appliances directly into an outlet. Never use an extension cord for a cooking appliance, it can cause a fire by overloading the circuit. 

Never leave cooking food unattended.  Ever.   Get a phone call during making dinner?  Don’t risk it, shut it off if you need to leave the kitchen.

Use a Timer.   Incase you were to forget you are broiling something, the timer will remind you. I have 5 different timers in my kitchen incase I am cooking multiple things.

Check it.  Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.  Matthew and I have a mental checklist that we check before leaving the house.  If you leave the house and aren’t sure if you turned it off, return home to be extra safe.  

Talk to your Family.  What happens if the kitchen is on fire? Where is the nearest exit?  In general, kitchen or not, have a exit plan.   Everyone in the family should know their part of the escape plan, even the dogs and cats should have their carrier readily available if needed.    Be prepared.   Sparky is a great resource for children. 

If there is a fire:

Smother the Flames.  Always keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby when you are cooking. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan. (Make sure you are wearing the oven mitt.) Turn off the burner. Do not move the pan. To keep the fire from restarting, leave the lid on until the pan is completely cool.  Never use water or flour or pick up a burning pan to put into the sink. Smother it with a lid and remove that oxygen.   

Turn off the heat.  In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed to prevent flames from burning you or your clothing. 

Keep The Door Closed.  If a fire starts in your microwave or toaster oven, turn the appliance off immediately and keep the door closed. Never open the door until the fire is completely out. Unplug the appliance if you can safely reach the outlet. 

Exit.  Fire too much? Leave immediately.  Your life and your families are much more important then your Le Creuset cookware.  Call 911 immediately. 

Stop, Drop and Roll. We all learn this as a kid but remember it.   Don’t run if your clothing catches fire , stop where you are, drop to the ground, and roll,

 

Thanks for sticking with me through this post because honestly I had to stop and cry a few times.   Thankfully memories last forever.   I hope the safety tips are helpful to you and your family.
Now, a group hug.

67 Comments

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  • How devastating. I am so sorry your family had to go through that.

    This is a perfect time to share such important information. It seems around here so many people lose their homes to fire caused by Christmas lights or forgotten candles this time of year.

    Stay safe! xo

  • Oh my goodness, what a horrible thing your family had to go through. Thanks for sharing all this information – it’s so important for people to know all of this and stay as safe as they can.

  • This post had me in tears. So glad everyone was safe, now that’s the most important thing.
    Thanks for sharing some emotional moments with us and for your tips. Yes, it is the perfect time for your post to come.

  • Dramatic images, dramatic story. At, it is almost a shock to look at the pictures, I can’t imagine how emotionally proving must be to live the situation. I really wanna say thank you for sharing it. It is nice to know your father lives now in his dream house and I will make sure to remember this tips about fire safety always.

  • Pamela. Thank you for this reminder and for sharing your story. I am so happy your Dad was okay.

    My house burned down 5 years ago. Thankfully everyone was okay but just wanted to let you know that I understand. It’s heart-wrenching and nerve-racking but being able to hug the ones you love is the most important. We get through these things and we learn from them. Lots of love!

  • Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Pamela. This is a terrifying thing to go through, and I think it’s wonderful that you’re using your experience to help others know what to do in the event of a situation like this. Group hug indeed.

  • I cannot imagine going through something like that … having to walk through rooms that held that many memories, knowing it would never be the same; thank you for willing to share and use this experience to remind us of how important little things like unplugging appliances are. I forget how devastating something like that can be. Your photos definitely will stick. Thank you again Pamela!

  • Pamela – you’re a good soul to share this experience and the tips with us. I know I can really use the reminders about fire safety. I’m sorry you had to go through such a traumatic experience and I’m glad your dad was not hurt. I really appreciate this. xo

  • This broke my heart. Glad everyone was okay, though. Good tips! We’re all about fire safety in our house. Smoke detectors in almost every room, and at least two fire extinguishers on each floor. We even got a fold up ladder that you can throw out the window and escape from the top floor of our house in case of an emergency.

  • Wow, I am so sorry about the house fire. I can’t imagine my childhood home burning. I am so glad your dad is doing well though and has his “dream house.” Thanks for the pictures and fire safety tips. I honestly would not have thought of just smothering the fire. My first instinct is to dump water, so that’s a really good reminder. Thanks again for sharing your story!

  • I can’t imagine how scary that was! Glad everyone was safe. We have monthly safety meetings at work and every July we practice using fire extinguishers on real fires (in a controled aparatus explicitly designed for thsi purpose). I had always overestimated what a fire extinguisher could do — the little ones we have in our homes can’t do much! It’s great that you posted about being prepared and having a plan.

  • Wow Pamela, this is a very eye-opening post. I’m so sorry that happened to your dad and to your home. It sounds like you have a lot of wonderful memories in your heart though. Thank you for sharing this, it’s something we all need to take much more seriously.

  • Pamela, thank you ever so much for sharing this important albeit emotional and heartbreaking story. My heart goes out to you and my first thoughts were that it was a blessing your father and others made it out alive and that you had at least a couple treasures remaining. Your post, with all the safety tips, is incredibly timely as it is the Christmas season and wintertime when people heat their homes, cook and bake more often (in a hurry) and have lit Christmas trees which, unfortunately, can catch fire. Perhaps you can add some tips for fire safety in that regard as well…with Christmas trees. So many families have had their lives turned upside down over fire with the saddest being loss of life. You are a gem, my dear, for sharing your story and these tips with your readers in the name of fire prevention and safety. Sending hugs! xoxo

  • That is so horrible, I am so sorry you and your family had to go through that =(
    It has recently happened to an ex-colleague of mine, and it has made me so much more conscious of such things. Thank god none of your family members were hurt.

    { Teffys Perks Blog } X

  • Pamela, I am so sorry to hear that your family had to go through this. I was so relieved to read that everyone made it out okay and your Dad was able to purchase the home that he always wanted. We had a fire scare at our house on the 4th of July when a tree fell on the power lines and sent an electrical surge through our house. It set our cable box on fire and luckily we were home and were able to put it out with a fire extinguisher. Fires are scary so thank you for sharing the fire safety tips.

  • Fire is so horrible! I’ve been lucky enough to never experience it, but Mrs K R had a scary one when she was a child – her house burned down. So fire safety has always been a biggie with us. So glad your dad got a great new house. And that the Xanadu sign survived!

  • What a horrific ordeal for your family to have gone through Pamela. So scary, I’m sure it left you all shaken to the core. So sad to see your family home in flames like that but thank God everybody got out alive and unharmed. Thank you for the fire tips, such valuable info we all need to know. So happy your Dad moved to a new house that he’s enjoying and LOVE his santa capped bears and cats. :))))

  • Oh Pamela, I am so sorry that you and your family had to go through such a horrible experience, my eyes filled up with tears reading this 🙁 I am so glad that your dad made it out safely and that he now has a home that he loves so much. Thank you so very much for sharing this very personal story and these great fire tips with us. My heart goes out to you. *Hugs*

  • I got teary eyed when I read and saw what happened to your childhood home. I’m so glad your Dad was OK. Was a real bummer for your Dad to have to live in a hotel for 8 months while they investigate and paid out. I’m glad things turned out better for him in the end. Thanks for sharing your story and the fire safety tips. Take care, my friend.

  • With tears flowing i will always know that you will always be DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL THAT HE WILL ALWAYS LOVE MORE THAN ANYTHING
    LOVE U
    DAD XOXOXO

  • How sad! I can’t imagine how horrible it was for you & your whole family. I am glad everyone was okay. I am also happy to hear your dad loves his new place!

  • Oh my goodness… that made me teary eyed. I can’t even imagine. I am fortunate enough to have never gone through that and I am so sorry to hear that you and your family did. Thank goodness your dad is ok!
    Thank you for sharing this story and safety tips with us.

  • I can’t imagine going through something like that, how heartbreaking. I’m glad you’re writing a post about it, because no one thinks something like that can happen to them. I am notoriously careless when it comes to fire safety; leaving pot holders next to my gas stove, turning the smoke detector off while I’m cooking and forgetting to put it back on, leaving candles burning while I’m not in the room. This makes me realize that I need to be really careful about these things, thanks for the tips girl! And so glad to hear your story has a happy ending 🙂

  • What a somber post. I can’t even imagine a fire. What would I grab? What would we do? What’s the plan of attack? This helped a lot. Glad your dad was OK.

  • I am so sorry about the fire, the loss, the devastation. I am glad that both your brother and Father got out with their lives. Losing tangible memories is a very hard thing to have to go through. Your fire safety tips are great and very appropriate.

  • This is so sad, I’m so sorry your family had to go through that…I can’t even imagine how devastating losing my home or my parent’s homes to a fire would feel. At least your dad is happy in his new house, and most importantly, got out alive. Thanks for the reminders on fire safety-we can all use a reminder every so often, it’s so easy to become careless.

    • Smoke damage can be really bad, but luckily it can be helped. A lot of items that receive smoke damage are restorable so that way it’s as if nothing happened to them. Hopefully it wasn’t too bad for you, and you were able to get your stuff restored.

  • Omg! Gosh Pamela so heart breaking to loose all your memories! We had a fire near us, one of the town houses was in flames! I get scared wondering what I would do if our town house caught on fire!! Thanks for the message I am going to start making that list I have been putting off for a few days..

  • Ugh. I’m so sorry to hear about this. We almost lost my childhood home in the Waldo Canyon Fire last summer. My parents were evacuated for over four weeks. It took days for us to find out if our house had survived. Many of my neighbors lost everything…thank you for sharing those important fire safety tips. And I’m so glad your dad was able to get his dream house.

  • This was a chilling story, and I’m just so glad to hear your dad was okay!!! Fire is a real risk, and we should all have a plan for how to avoid it and what to do if it happens.

  • This post nearly made me cry, I’m sorry to hear about your childhood home but I’m so glad your dad got out okay and that no one was seriously hurt. I feel your fear of fire as my hair was once set on fire by a fauly gas ring. I’m so careful in my kitchen, but these tips at the end have made me feel like I’m not crazy to unplugging everything at night.

  • How devastating… I can’t even begin to imagine. The same happened to a friend of mine a few years back and I still remember the pain in her eyes.

    Yes, safety above all else.

  • Wow, I’m so sorry that happened to your family, Pamela! i definitely teared up reading this. I’m a saver and I can’t even imagine what I would feel if I lost all those things I’ve been saving for so many years. I’m so so glad that your dad made it out safely…and that there was a happy ending after all in his beautiful new house. When I was younger, I used to think about how I would escape if there were a fire and it still scares me to this day. Thank you for all these tips!

  • oh my gosh!
    you know that is one of my worst fears too, that and flooding (we live near the ocean).
    I’m so sorry that happened to your family, geez.
    Yes great tips, but it was so heartbreaking to read because it can happen to anyone and your life just is so hard to recover from because as we all know insurance SUCKS, and never gives you the whole amount.
    And can I say, please no one, ever run their dryer while the house is empty. So many house fires start from that.

  • Must have been so terrifying to have such a close call with your dad and lose your family home. Thank you for posting this as a reminder for all of us to take precautions. You have made me realize that we do not have a fire extinguisher since we’ve moved to our new house. Going to fix that tomorrow.

  • Ahh this post was difficult for me to read, I teared up a little. Pamela, that must have been terrifying. What an ordeal..seriously, just terrifying. I’m so glad your Dad is safe and that really is the most important part. But I can’t imagine losing all of my belongings accumulated over a lifetime of memories. Wow…

    I am always cautious with fire. Although I have never had a negative experience with it, something about fire AND electricity freaks me out and has since as long as I can remember. Even using the oven, sometimes I get scared!!! It’s silly, but maybe it’s better to be a bit fearful of something that can be so powerful!

  • I don’t know how I missed this post, but I’m so glad you mentioned it again. WOW. You are an incredibly resilient and strong woman! I can’t imagine what this must have been like….I would have fallen apart.

    Fire extinguisher just got added to my list of things to buy this weekend!

  • This is an awful story and I had goosebumps reading it. I’m so glad your dad made it through all right and that now he has a home he loves. We all need to pay attention to what you say. I did burn a kitchen once and it’s as scary as can be. Thankfully I did have a smoke blanket in the kitchen.

  • What an incredibly useful reminder to all of us who love to cook. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, and let’s hope that the silver lining is that this post will prevent any future tragedies.
    This post must have been difficult to articulate, so I’m sending positive, healing thoughts your way!

  • Oh Pamela – I had tears in my eyes as I read this. A fire is among my worst fears. We try so hard to be safe and protected, but sadly we can’t prevent our neighbors from doing the same.
    I’m so glad that your dad is safe and happy in his new home. Truly a horrific experience – and even though the material possessions didn’t make it, the memories can never be taken, burned, or forgotten.
    Thank you for reminding us to be safe – always … but especially around the holidays when candles, fires in the fireplaces, and Christmas trees are added risks.

    PS – loving your bow tie – every 6-year old should have one! 🙂

  • Pamela, thank you for writing this! That must have been so surreal to see your house burn down–I’m so sorry for the loss of your house, but so glad no one was hurt! Thanks for these fire safety tips–a very good reminder to keep things safe in the kitchen! Sharing this on my page–I think everyone should read this.

  • OOOh dear Pamela? how wafel to hear that your dad’s house burnt off! I hope that your Dad is now somewhere else safe & well.

    So sorry to hear What you all went through, x

  • Pamela I’m so sorry to hear about this 🙁 I can’t begin to imagine how hard it’s been for you and your family (I hope your dad is okay) I really admire you for this write up and the great fire tips – all of them taken on board! Hugs

  • First of all, I find you incredibly brave for taking the time to recount this very personal story for all of us! I am so sorry you had to endure such a harsh loss. But I am so happy that your father escaped uninjured! May you cherish your childhood memories long after your house is now gone. And good for you to turn this tragedy into an important reminder for all of us on fire safety!!

  • Wow, that sounds like a terrible situation and my sympathies go out to you. But this can definitely serve as a great piece of advice for anyone who thinks that fires only happen to other people, myself included. The tips you offer to help prevent house fires are really great steps that you can take to help protect your home and family from these terrible disasters, chiefly by having working smoke detectors and keeping fire extinguishers handy. Thanks so much for writing!

  • I am so sorry for what happened. We had a kitchen fire last year that nearly took our living room also. I agree to have an extinguisher handy, luckily we had one or else we could have lost a lot more.

  • I appreciate that you shared your experience that you went through. My house going up in flames is something I fear happening. My husband suggested getting a fire extinguisher, but we were not sure how many to get or where to place it. Putting one next to the stove sounds like a great idea.

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