Saturday, January 7, 2012

The House That Burned

No one lives in this house now.
About three or four years ago, this house caught on fire.  I was outside getting the mail.  I noticed a woman on the porch of this house banging on the front door and then gesturing wildly at the window that is boarded up in the picture.  Though I could not make out all that she was carrying on about, it sounded like she was yelling, "Is anybody home?!" The UPS man was stopped at the house next door to mine. He was out of his truck watching the lady too.  He caught on faster than I, and started dialing on his cell phone.  The lady was off the porch, still yelling, and at about that same time I wondered if the house was on fire or something, I saw a huge cloud of black smoke rise out of the back of the house.
I remember repeating, "Oh my god"over and over as I ran into my house and fumbled with my phone.
Knowing somehow that the UPS man had been dialing the fire department, I called the woman who lived there.  Her son answered.  He was about ten or eleven years old at the time.  He was not at home.  I didn't want to panic him, but I told him I needed his mom's number at work.  I told him I thought his house was on fire.
Then, I called his mom who is a nurse.  It was a most horrible phone call.  I told her she needed to come home at once, her house was on fire.
I rushed back outside, and the fire truck had arrived and the firemen were on the porch banging the front door with an ax.  When they were finally able to break in, a humongous gush of black smoke poured out the front door.  They rushed in with their hoses.
Neighbors had started to gather.  The car washing Fusco brother stood next to me on the sidewalk and exclaimed. Cats escaped from the back door.  The boy who lived in the house arrived with a friend.  He walked onto the front lawn and crumpled as he saw the house burn.  I remember running to him and picking him up and carrying him across the street.
The firemen brought out a dog crate with two Yorkshire terriers in it and set it on the back driveway.  My sons carried the dog crate to my house.  The woman who owned the house drove up and went immediately to talk with the firemen.  The older brother who lived in the house came with friends who eventually helped him get some stuff together so he could stay with them.  The younger boy (the one I carried) went with his friend, who was a companion of his from the Baptist church.  Their mother told me she would come get the dogs when she figured out what she was going to do.
We bathed the poor little dogs, turning the water in the tub black.  They and their crate smelled heavily of smoke.
Over the next few days, the neighborhood church took up a collection to help the family.  Some people who rented a house and were leaving earlier than their contract ran out let the family live there until they could figure out what to do next.  Eventually, they moved around the corner and down the street into another house the woman's mother owned, but had intended to sell.

Some days you can still smell that house.  Stale campfire smell floats through the air.  I haven't been inside, but my son has.  He says everything is charred, smokey, or ruined by water.  The city will not consider the property condemned, so they will not tear it down.  The owners have it for sale.  But it is a huge project, so it just sits there.  They say the fire started because of old wiring in the basement.

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