Monday, July 9, 2012

The One Where I Tell You About The Fire We Had At Holtwood House This Weekend

There were a number of things I learned this past weekend. Above all, I learned that I'm probably not the first person someone should pick to help man their life boat.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It actually all started out quite typical of a weekend morning around these parts. We were preparing for a big swim bash and had spent the previous day and night, shopping, cooking and arranging for a house full of guests by noon on Saturday. By ten-thirty, we were just making our last run to the store for extra ice and running the vacuum through the house one more time. I hit the patio carpet last and noticed that when I plugged the vacuum into the outlet on the side of the nearby kitchen island (like I always do), that the power surged on and off and then completely off on the vacuum. It appeared that there was something wrong with the vacuum and not the outlet actually until I remembered that we had tried to plug something into that same outlet a couple of weeks back and briefly experienced something similar with a kitchen appliance. I thought to try another nearby outlet and to my relief, the vacuum worked fine.

As I wound up the cord on the vacuum, The Mister was walking through the door with some extra grocery bags. Very suddenly, I smelled it.

"Electrical fire! Electrical fire! We have an electrical fire!," I yelled. "Shut the breakers off at the box!"

The distinct smell of burning plastic that singes your nose, the smell of fire so different from your BBQ or fireplace, was becoming stronger by the second as I stood in our kitchen.

"I can't open the box! It's painted shut!," I hear from the side of that house between my screams to "hurry up!"

I'm on my hands and knees at this point, crawling all over the kitchen trying to find the source. The bad electrical outlet on the kitchen island did not show any signs that there was a problem there. Finally, I threw open the doors under the kitchen sink to find not smoke but FLAMES coming from the outlet where the disposal was plugged in.

"Fire! Fire! We have a fire!" I stood there screaming bloody murder, visions of our beautiful little dream house going up in flames. It was surely a goner.  Dylan came rushing to join in, barking and jumping at me while I stood there screaming, frozen.

I snapped out of my hysteria briefly enough drop to my knees and rip out all reachable bottles of cleansers and microfiber rags beneath the sink as I searched for the extinguisher we have long kept there. It was not there. Had it been there, I surely would not have known what to do with it anyway.

The Mister came bolting in from outside and went straight to the garage, returning with the extinguisher to pull the pin and put the flames out.

We stood there in shock, the kitchen just minutes ago all arranged for our party, now in complete disarray with the contents of the extinguisher all but reduced to a cloud of dust blanketing everything in the kitchen and adjacent dining room. A follow up 911 call later and we had a truck full of firemen, sirens blaring, pulling up in front of our house.

We were told to wait outside, while they checked for hot spots, finding several sources of heat still within our walls. The Mister had successfully broke open the electrical box and cut power to the house during all of that chaos. But they were finding some heat still within the wall.

Eventually- and truth be told very quickly, the Captain emerged to explain the cause of fire to us.

When we bought Holtwood House, we knew two things:

- The garbage disposal worked
- The house had been successfully passed a safety check

We also had changed out 90% of the outlets and wiring in the house, having been told that the old aluminum wiring was a safety hazard. There were a couple of outlets we forgot to switch out- all in secondary usage sources. The outlet for the disposal and dishwasher under the sink, the outlet on the other side of the wall in the adjacent covered patio were among them.

What we did not realize were a couple of critical things.

- The single outlet powering our dishwasher and garbage disposal also was powering something else- the outlet on the side of the kitchen island.

- That kitchen island outlet was deriving power from the outlet under the sink via a three- socket adapter. Yes... it was an outlet that was rigged to plug into another outlet!

You can imagine our horror when the Fire Captain handed us this:

Then he proceeded to explain why we should NEVER, EVER have one of these in our home. He explained that the power bars with a surge protector are fine, but anything like the three socket adapter that so many people use at Christmas time or to extend power to their computer equipment for example is no bueno.

He also showed us how the previous homeowner had rigged the extra outlet on the side of the island to plug into that adapter. The entire line of romex was actually visible once the silverware drawers had been pulled out.

We've spent months making our house beautiful, with just the right lighting fixture here and piece of furniture there, but somehow neglected to notice something that was a clear fire hazard in the area we frequent most.

So there we stood in our backyard feeling shocked, foolish and anticipating a fully damaged electrical system in the house we have painstakingly wired up with beautiful lighting and speakers over our last year of home ownership.

The adrenaline started to give way to tears. We had no power and the guys were starting to pack up and leave the house. Honestly, I was scared to stay there myself and just wanted to go with them. Suddenly, the Captain looked over to his guys and said, "Hey, let's try and isolate the breaker so we can get power to the rest of the house and get these guys up and going for their party."

Are you kidding me?

And they did.

And yes, we did.  Sometimes the show must go on, even with a fried garbage disposal, black walls and frayed nerves.


1 comment

Emily Davis said...

Oh my GOSH! How terrifying! Thanks for sharing your experience, though. Everything you learned is super helpful for the rest of us.

xoxo, Emily

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