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  • Writer's pictureRobert Weidner

What I Found In The Fire

Bam! Bam! Bam! Came the knock at the door. My eyes shot open. Banksy, our dog, let out a rapid succession of barks and yips. I glanced at the clock… 4:10 AM. Not much good ever happens at that time.

“What’s going on?” My wife asked as she sat up and cleared the sleep from her eyes.

“I think there’s been an accident,” I replied. Banksy and I made our way to the front door. We live near the highway, and in late winter the roads can be quite slippery. I was concerned someone may be at the front door, bloodied and seeking help. Instead, there was a gentleman from the Sheriff’s Department.

“Your shed’s on fire.”

“Thank you,” I said, whirling back to grab my shoes, and then — without tying the laces or grabbing a winter jacket — running outside, with Michelle close behind. Our brains taking in snippets of the scene and trying to make sense of the information. Small puffs of smoke billowing from the shed, where our horses sleep. The gate open. The sheriff trying to caution us from entering the building. My wife swinging open the door to the stalls, and seeing the space empty. That is, except for the straw bedding in the corner, smoldering in flames.

“Ma’am, please don’t enter the building. You need to keep the door closed.”

“The horses aren’t in there. They must have gotten out.” Michelle shouted, then darted towards the pasture and into the pitch black night.

“You can take my flashlight,” the Sheriff called to me. I ran over to grab the light, then into the field to catch up with my wife. In the very back of our 10-acre lot, we could faintly see the animals, huddled in safety.

Michelle and I both sprinted back to the building, just as the fire trucks were beginning to arrive. “Unfortunately,” said the Sherif, “you live in the country, so they’ll have to port the water in. They’ll setup a large pool and get that filled with water, then the trucks will rotate through to fight the blaze. We’ll have four different fire departments on scene.”

As we watched the first crew ready the fire equipment, and then slowly enter the building, a few small flames broke through the ceiling. The crew backed out of entry, and then maneuvered to the other side of the building, assessing the situation.

“You’re letting it all burn,” Michelle exhaled to the Sherrif, having only seen flames in the bed of straw, and feeling completely helpless.

“They know what they’re doing,” I encouraged. “There are no people inside, and all the animals are safe. They don’t need to risk their lives for our stuff. They have to assess the structural integrity of the building… the fire could be in the walls.”

As the fire crew attempted to enter the building from the other side, the flames suddenly erupted… having caught the bales of hay that were stacked in the center. Flames exploded through the roof, all Halloween orange and red wisps of chaos.

The fire roared, shooting flares into the night sky, working its way along the roof and to the front of the building. My heart sank. Metal bending and folding, until finally breaking and collapsing in on itself. The stench of smoke and char filling our nostrils and creeping into our lungs. My basketball hoop, now up in flames, glass melting back to liquid form. The building, and everything in it, was lost.

It was then I felt the cold. I wasn’t wearing a jacket, didn’t even have socks on. The temperatures were well below freezing, and we’d been watching the scene unfold for an hour. A chill set in that I wouldn’t shake for the rest of the day.

Michelle and I went inside to wait out the chaos. I let family, friends, and coworkers know about our situation. The outpouring of support, and offers to help, were incredible. There were a few, immediate tactical things we needed to address.

On our small hobby farm, we have four full-size horses, a miniature horse, a miniature donkey, a dog, and a cat. Josie — the donkey — suffers from a thyroid issue and needs two doses of medicine daily. We almost lost her five years ago when the condition first developed, in what was a harrowing few weeks. Her medicine was in the shed, along with our full supply of grain and hay. The power, gas, and water to the shed were all shut off; thereby disabling the electric horse fence and water supply. In the pasture the animals have no shelter, and the horse blankets were all lost to the fire, with freezing rain in the forecast.

Michelle’s equine friends brought over hay, grain, horse blankets, and other supplies. Our veterinarian provided medicine for Josie at 8 PM on a Friday night. My coworkers offered to help carry buckets of water, if need be; though we were able to purchase a water trough, electrical cords, and hoses, to configure a watering system from the house to the pasture.

The fire crews remained onsite for nearly eight hours, battling the blaze, rummaging through the coals to salvage as many personal belongings as they could, knocking parts of the unstable building down and putting the last remnants of the fire out. Our neighbor, who owns a nearby landscaping company, brought over his front loader to separate the debris and ensure the fire was contained.

That afternoon we conducted a walk through with the Fire Marshall. This is what we saw…

Michelle’s office

Back wall, creaking in the wind

Inside of building

Horse trailer

Water softener and water heater

Polaris general UTV (frame and wheels)

Honda Magna motorcycle under the pile of rubble

Kayak trailer my dad built (the four kayaks stored on it vanished in the fire) and a disc golf basket

The Fire Marshall pointed out the V-shaped pattern of damage, which is an indicator of the likely source for the fire. The origin typically sits at the base of the V — in this case where our furnace and electrical box reside — and then climbs through the walls, creating this pattern. We had the furnace replaced two years ago.

Stress in the workplace can be substantial, but it often pales in comparison to the stress we can feel outside of work. Not figuratively, but literally, Michelle and I watched years of dreams, hard work, and investment disintegrate in seconds.

Yet there was something else we found in the fire. Gratitude. For the Sheriff’s department, the fire department, and the people who serve our communities. For our neighbors who rushed over to help. For our coworkers who covered in our absence. For our friends and family who brought over supplies, lended a helping hand, and provided encouraging words. Gratitude for each other. That everyone was safe, and we still have the opportunity to rebuild things together.

And so we will.

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