The most traumatic event of my young life happened to me this past Monday. My parent’s house burned down. I got the phone call at 1:50AM Monday morning November 27, 2006. I answer half asleep to my mother yelling into the phone hysterically repeating over and over a terrible accident has happened. All the time my mind is racing trying to figure out what could have happened and filling with a primal dread. I was sure my grandmother had passed away as she is 94 and in failing health. Then my mom drops it like an atom bomb. Our house had caught fire and has burned down, and while I'm trying to wrap my mind around that statement she tells me that our dog died in the fire.
At this point I can barely speak and manage to stammer out the statement "Oh my God, are you guys ok?" My mom asks me to come over and bring my dad some shoes and a coat because he is standing outside in 36 degree weather in shorts, a t-shirt and bare feet. So I grab a couple coats and some shoes and socks and book out of the house. I can safely say I've never had a harder time keeping my car anywhere close to the speed limit. I was exhausted, shocked and shaking pretty bad. But I knew that crashing into the Willamette River wouldn't help my folks so I did my best to obey the law.
It took me 20 min. to get to my parents house and the scene that greeted me was almost as shocking as the phone call. I had to park over a block away because the street in front of my parent’s house was filled with fire trucks. I remember counting nine fire trucks with water hoses running all over the place. They say this was a five alarm fire and both Portland and Gresham fire departments responded. It was chaos.
I found my parents sitting in a fire truck staying warm as a few dozen men and women fought to save what was left of their house, which wasn't much by this point. So I stood there with my arms around my parents in shock as the carcass of our house smoldered. As reality set in we started asking the firemen on the scene and the investigator when could we go back in the house. They informed us it would be later that day at the earliest. A couple firemen were kind enough to retrieve my mother’s purse and my dads watch and keys. Not knowing what the state of the interior of the house was we figured everything was destroyed, including the few Christmas gifts my mother had purchased and wrapped. Then two firemen came up to us with the presents in their arms. They smelled of smoke and were covered in soot, but they survived, a small but consoling fact none the less.
At this point there is nothing left to be done so we load up in my parents remaining vehicle and we drive to Wal-Mart, as it is the ONLY store open at 4:30 in the morning, to get my parents some clothes that didn't smell of smoke. My dad, famous for talking, informs the greeter that their house had just burned down hence why they were dressed like they were. The store manager gets word and very kindly gives my parents 10% off their entire purchase.
We then proceed to my house so they could shower and try to get some sleep. Needless to say, none of us slept. A few hours later the insurance adjuster showed up and started talking turkey. After a few stops to get some new reading glasses and a clean coat we wound up back at my parents house. Shocking doesn't describe what the house looked like earlier that morning. With the daylight I can see how thorough the damage to the house is. There is nothing left of the garage except a few charred pieces of lumber. The Jeep and travel trailer are completely gutted but luckily the full propane tanks on the trailer didn't ignite or explode.
In the backyard is where I found the remains of our dog. The police had wrapped her in an orange survival blanket. My dad and I loaded her into his pickup as gently as we could. It was at this point my mother, who had been very calm through this ordeal, lost it and started crying. I secured our dog for her trip to the vet’s office while my dad did his best to comfort my mom.
While my dad was taking the dog to be cremated I took my mom to the house of some family friends so she could get cleaned up and changed. Shortly after, my dad shows up and I head home. It’s nearing 5 in the afternoon by this point and I have been up for nearly 30 hours. When I got home my friend and boss, Greg Hughes, called and said he was heading over with a gift from the department for my parents. I set about trying to stay awake long enough for him to show up. When he did he presented me with a VISA gift card for a large sum of money. I was floored. When I started to thank him for the gift he said "You're family is our family and we take care of our own." I almost started crying right there. Words cannot describe how much their offers of help meant. Thank You all!
And my thanks goes out to the Portland and Gresham fire fighters for their quick response and diligent work that saved other homes near ours from sharing the same fate.
It's very true what they say. A tragedy is just an event until it happens to you. I recall seeing at least one report of a house or apartment fire every holiday over the past few years and thinking how terrible it must be for the affected people, but then I change the station and life goes on. Never did I think that could one day be my house on the news and my family standing in the cold. And while we now have to deal with the task of rebuilding and piecing back together some sense of normality, I've very thankful to have my parents around to help with that.