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.

68 Comments

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  • That’s a horrible story! You have taken a great step to share it and to keep the residents aware. Residents must take preemptive measures to keep their abodes and belongings safe. Moreover, thanks for sharing useful safety tips.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!!

  • 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

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