Smoke Chokes But Fire Breathes Part 1, by Bill

I’m not quite sure how to begin this story. It’s not something I’m particularly proud to tell, or know how to express well. So, I guess I’ll just start from where I remember.

I was sleeping in my bed on the afternoon of February 10th. I work overnight during the week, so I usually sleep until about 1:30pm. On the days my daughter goes to school, I wake up and go pick her up around 2. I had been suffering from a sinus infection and allergy issues, so Christina let me sleep longer than normal and decided to go pick up Issa herself. I had also taken some allergy meds before I fell asleep, so I was out cold.

I don’t remember Christina leaving the house, but I vaguely remember her closing the door to our bedroom. She later told me she did that (which she usually did not do) so our dog Sam wouldn’t wake me up while she was gone.

I have sleep apnea so I sleep with a CPAP machine. It has really been helpful in our marriage, because apparently I used to snore like a lumberjack.

On Friday, I was sleeping soundly when all of a sudden I felt like I could not get enough oxygen in my lungs. My initial reaction was that my CPAP had fallen off and I had stopped breathing.

I opened my eyes slightly, that twilight awake stage, and saw smoke filling our bedroom. I swear I also heard my dog bark, even though at this point we think she was already gone. I was awake instantly. My first reaction was, “Oh shit, something in our house is on fire.”

My wife and I have been extremely safety conscious since we found out she first got pregnant nearly 5 years ago. We spent hundreds of dollars baby proofing the house, and installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in every room of our house, as well as installing fire extinguishers in the kitchen, and garage.

While I know they worked, the kitchen smoke alarm went off anytime Christina cooked bacon, I never heard them.

I immediately decided to get to the kitchen and grab the fire extinguisher to put out whatever was on fire. I jumped out of bed and ran to our bedroom door. I need to point out here that I did not have any clothes on except my boxer shorts. It’s how I sleep. If you don’t like it, too bad.

I ran to our bedroom door and yanked it open. Instantly more smoke started to fill our room and I walked into a wall, literally floor to ceiling in our living room, of toxic black smoke. It felt like I was being pulled under by the ocean’s undertow. I also felt the heat blasting me in the face like when you sit too close to a fire pit. I inhaled in a panic and almost passed out on the floor. I felt the darkness start to envelope me and I knew I had to get out of the house or I was not going to survive. I was somehow able to slam our bedroom door, jump onto our bed, rip open the curtain of our window above our bed, slide the window open, punch out the screen and jump out of the window.

I landed in our back yard. We live on a decent sized plot of land. One would call it a mid-sized suburban lot. We won’t be installing a pool anytime soon, but there is enough back yard that we have a playhouse for our daughter, a few raised vegetable beds, and a small fire pit area. We also had three large trees in our backyard, between two of them we had a really sweet hammock hanging. I loved laying in that hammock and letting the wind blow me slowly back and forth. It was heaven, even though we had only installed it about three weeks before the fire.

I land in the backyard, look to the right, and see the flames blasting out of the room where my wife had her office. It was surreal. At first I could not believe what I was seeing. There was no way that fire was shooting out of my house and eating my stuff.

But this was not a dream. There it was as plain as day, flames seething out of the office, about 15 feet from where I had escaped. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, but in actuality was more like 2 seconds, watching them breathe. It was weird. The flames would explode out of the now non-existent window, then fade back into the room. It was almost like there was a little dragon inside my house inhaling and exhaling the flames. Most bizarre experience I have ever seen.

I can’t express correctly the feelings rushing through me. My best explanation is I felt a rush of power surging through me and every piece of advice from every fire safety course I ever took in school flooded into my brain. In my rush to get out, instinct took over and I had the forethought to grab my cell phone, but nothing else.

As I stood there watching the flames breathe through my house and slowly eat away bits of my history and heart, my first reaction was to dial 911. I watched the flames licking the roof of our house coming from the direction of my wife’s home office and daughter’s bedroom as the phone rang. When I was on the phone with the emergency operator, I ran to the side of the house where the fire was concentrated. It was about 50 feet from where I had jumped out the window of our bedroom. Unfortunately it’s the only exit from our back yard and I wanted to make sure my family was not in the house. I knew my dog was in there somewhere, but I didn’t know where Chris and Issa were.

It’s a very scary feeling seeing your house burning down and filled with smoke and not knowing where your wife and child are. Luckily, a neighbor was in the front yard and I yelled to them and asked them how many cars were in my driveway. I’m not sure where that question came from, but somehow my brain knew that if there were only my two old Mercedes that meant Chris and Issa were not home. My neighbor informed me that the only cars there were the two Mercedes, so my brain went to problem number two…