I stood across the street in the safety of our neighbor's living room, watching as thick, acrid smoke billowed from the broken windows of our rented bungalow. Firefighters' hoses snaked through the front door and into each room, dousing flames, extinguishing everything we owned. Our three small sons crowded around me, and we stared in disbelief as the life we had known turned to ashes.
The fire had started in the lower level just before lunch. It was the first day back to preschool after Christmas break, and I was upstairs eating PB & Js with the boys. In the distance I heard a fire truck's horn blaring loudly. Someone's in trouble, I thought, and I shot up a quick prayer.
I sent the boys downstairs to get ready for preschool. When I went down to check and see if they were dressed yet, smoke was streaming above their heads as they played on their bedroom floor, both of them unaware of the dire danger they were in. The family room was completely ablaze. Someone had seen the smoke before I realized what was happening downstairs. The smoke detector malfunctioned and failed to signal the trouble we were in. The fire was out of control and quickly spreading through the entire lower level of our duplex. That fire truck was headed to us!
I fled the house with the kids, spraining my ankle on my way out the door as I tried to grab the keys to our vehicle. At least we could live in our van, I thought frantically. We ran door to door, banging for someone to let us in. Mercifully, we found one neighbor at home. As soon as she let us in, I called my husband, Dan, and told him what was happening.
He sped home from work. When he arrived, he went through our still-smoldering house and sloshed through puddles left by the fire fighters. Ornaments hung forlornly on our now smoke-damaged Christmas tree. He kicked up a treasured family photo that had gotten hosed to the floor. Looking at the picture, Dan realized that if this fire had happened at night, the boys surely would have died.
We salvaged what we could from the house, about a laundry basket's worth of possessions, and moved into a fully furnished apartment for the next nine months while our rented duplex was being restored. With few material possessions to maintain, clean, and organize, I had more time on my hands than I had ever had before. This meant more time to play with our kids.