Neighborhood Disasters

So far, our house has weathered two disasters. Since we aren't near any hills, I figure mudslides are unlikely. We're not on any geographic fault lines that I'm aware of either--so earthquakes are doubtful. We're too far inland for a real hurricane, though we will be in the path of "hurricane force winds" after a particularly bad hurricane…but mostly we get rain and some wind. That said, we've still weathered two disasters.

A Tornado Tale

I was teaching high school when a tornado hit. I wouldn't have known about it until I'd gone home if I hadn't overheard a couple of students talking. One said, "Did you hear about the tornado that touched down not far from here?" The other student asked where…and the first gave my address. Technically, he stated a street corner, but it was the corner I lived on. So there were only four houses there.

I went home during my lunch break to make sure we still had a home. My only real concern was for my rabbit and outdoor cats. But they were all well, thankfully. When I reached my street, police cars were already blocking every entrance and you had to have an driver's license with an appropriate address to enter. The builders of our subdivision were also already out putting up plastic sheeting to protect exposed portions of the houses the tornado had hit.

It did strike my street, but three houses down from the corner. That house had it's second floor ripped off and tipped over. The roof was jammed in the ground, the second floor upside down. Across the street, the tornado had slipped between two houses, peeling off their sides, leaving the houses to look like a Barbie Playhouse (or a miniature doll house) with exposed sides for reaching in. The furniture looked to be in place too. The tornado had skipped over to the next street and punched a hole in a roof and sucked out a lot of furniture, which it promptly dumped on the lawn like a yard sale.

As well, it had pulled off numerous porch posts and had scattered them though the neighborhood, sticking them in roof tops so that they looked like toothpicks sticking out of an appetizer.

Our house fared pretty well. We had a cracked window, a loose board on the chimney, and a couple of loose shingle. Most of our damage came from pieces of the other houses flying into ours. But we're also one of the few one-story houses among two-story houses and so that probably helped.

Three Alarm Fire

The second disaster, which came many years later, was a fire next door.

Our neighbor's houseOn a Monday, around 5 pm, my neighbor’s house caught on fire big time. (It was later determined to have been an electrical fire.)  It’s pretty much a loss, as you can see in the picture.  There might be a couple of downstairs rooms okay, but the back and upstairs are bad.  Everyone got out, including the little dog.  But there was excitement.  
First off, I was inside and through the back glass doors I saw a big shadow flit across the patio and retreat real fast.  Then it did it again.  I thought, no clouds move like that without a serious wind the trees weren't moving.  For a bird, it would have to be a big one.  So I opened the door and looked out toward my roof, thinking maybe a hawk was flying low….instead I saw an enormous plume of black smoke.
So I ran to our vinyl fence gate which has vinyl bars you can see through.  Between slats in the wooden fence next door I saw huge flames from the ground up.  Suddenly they leapt higher, over the top of the 6 foot fence.  Two teenagers were fleeing in panic.  I shouted, “Did you call 911 yet?”  They said no…so I ran back inside.

I dialed 911 and was put on hold.  Apparently there was a high volume of calls…but I couldn’t know about what so I waited. Because it’s me, while on hold, I ran back to look at the fire.  (Yes….dumb I know…)  Anyway, I was in the back driveway and the flames were growing and I was still on hold.  Then something popped really, really loud and a piece of wood was spit over the roof and spun off.  While a cool sight, I decided to run back inside my house wishing 911 would answer.  The fire was really big.
I’m impatient.  So I waited about another 5 seconds before I running to our alarm system—which was just put in a week before the fire as a trial and w/free installation etc.  I hit the code for fire, thinking either I'd hear from the fire department over the speaker or that if a truck came out they’ll quickly figure out that the house next door was burning.  I let the alarm go off for a while…and I was still on hold.  About 30 seconds or so of that, I heard the blare of fire trucks arriving.   So I cut off the alarm and hung up the phone.

I called Chris at work and said calmly, “Just wanted you to know that you won’t be able to pull up at the house when you get home.  The neighbor’s house is on fire.  I’m hoping ours won’t go….but the road is thoroughly blocked with 3 fire trucks, as many or more squad cars, an ambulance and there are 2 helicopters circling.  I don’t expect it to be over by 6.  Just so you know….”
Immediately after I hung up, our alarm system phoned and asked about the fire alarm.  I explained my thinking and that if the trucks hadn't gotten here soon that my house could've been next anyway.  We went over my name and our code and all was good.  I hung up and the phone rang again.  It was the 911 operator telling me, “You just dialed 911 and hung up.”  I confessed, “yes, I did.”  She said, “Is it about the fire?”  Of course, your address comes up on a screen when you call 911.  So I said, “Yes, I did.  But the trucks just got here.”  So all was good.
I went out front this time as the fire seemedless dangerous from that side.   (Yes….I know it's not the brightest of moves…. But then again, we had people coming from all over the neighborhood to gather in my lawn and across the street to watch. So I had loads of company.)
One lady was shaking and shivering and crying real bad.  She was the housesitter and baby sitter.  Yep…the owners were away in San Antonio.  They got home about 30 minutes into the fire.  As an aside—after the fact, our neighbor said the babysitter’s sister had phoned them to say the house was on fire.  His response was, “Don’t tell me!  Call 911!”
To help out—I got the housesitter/babysitter some water and made sure that all the kids and the dog Max (a little Westie) was okay.  I was going back in to get some more water for one of the kids, when a police officer asked me if there was anyone inside my house.  I said, just me and the pets.  He said I needed to get them and evacuate, just in case.  Okay.  That’s not so easy with my pets.  So I grabbed the 2 carriers for the rabbits…..
The little boy was easy. I picked him up; he looked rather dazed, like “what’s up?” and then I shoved him inside before he knew what was up.  Then I go after the little girl.  She was not so easy.  She had recently been to the vet and disliked the carrier.  So she tried to squeeze out of my grip and fought me the whole time I was stuffing her into the carrier.  But I got her in and the rabbits were ready to vacate.  Now for the tricky part…the 2 sugar gliders.  Because as sure as heck, if the house had burned down or they'd died from smoke inhalation – and I could smell the smoke—I’d feel terrible forever.  What you have to consider is these are NOT tame gliders.

They’re rescue gliders from a guy who couldn’t tame them when they were young and didn’t want them now that they were adults.  So we gave them a home…but they’re really wild.  Luckily, in the day, they sleep in a hanging pouch, sort of like a teepee.  I unhooked the teepee, folded it to close the entrance hole and stuffed them in a cardboard box.
I was stumbling, my arms loaded, toward the door when the officer started pounding on the door, shouting, “You have to come outside now!”
I thought, “Great.  Our house has caught too.”  But the firefighters were out there working and I figured they’ll try to stop mine before it got out of hand.  So, back to stumbling toward the door, I fumble on getting out and one carrier.  Yeah…my little bunny-girl wasn’t happy about that either.
At the door I asked the officer to please help me out and he took one of the carriers.  He then led me across our lawn and asked if I’d like to wait out the fire in the squad car because it was Air Conditioned. (This is Texas in late July!)  Not being a fool, I accepted.  Mind you, no one else got to wait in any of the other squad cars in the area.
So I sat in the car, next to the shotgun with the laptop computer with the radio, watching huge flames and black billows, unable to be sure from my angle what exactly was burning, just hoping our house wouldn’t be destroyed.  While in the car, people stopped by to see if I need bottled water or such.  I declined, considering I had AC.  And the family whose house was burning is still on the lawn watching—along with about 50 people from the neighborhood.  Another lady came to the window and knocked to tell me she was praying for me.  That was very nice.  I told her our house was probably going to be fine and told her where to find the people who really needed her prayers.  She said she'd pray for us anyway.
Okay…so I watched all this from an air-conditioned seat, listening to the police radio, and figured I needed to phone Chris again.  I told him, “You might want to leave early.  I’m in a police car with the critters, and it looks like our house just caught.”  He said he’d already left after the first call and was nearly home.  Throughout, the officer kept checking on me and telling me not to worry, that it looked like the firefighters had everything under control.  He didn't think there’ll be much damage….
I’d been in the car for about 30 minutes when and I realized the gliders might not get enough air in that box.  So I stacked the 2 carriers in the driver’s seat and grabbed the box at my feet and punched some holes in it with a pen.  But I couldn't tell if they went through the lid.  So I eased up the lid to feel for holes when the danged wild creatures got out.  They’re small and very fast and hard to catch.

With everything else going on, I was inside the car thrashing around trying to catch gliders, all the while being really glad I didn’t have this happen outside….so very glad to have the car to contain the little critters.  I grabbed one and it bit the snot out of my hand and fingers.  I shoved him in the box.  I caught the other.  I shoved him in and the first was back out.  I tried to get the first back in and they were both back out.  Then I got one inside and I'd completely lost track of otherl.   Oh no…..
The little guy had managed to get into the back seat. You know what, it’s not easy to get into the back seat of a squad car.  (No, I didn’t manage it.)  But I tried to open the door from the outside…nope.  So, I sat there watching the glider hang from the squad car’s ceiling, licking the upholstery and such, thinking the next K-9 in this car was gonna wonder what had been on the ceiling….and about then, the officer checked in.
I asked casually, “Do you have a box?”  I figured I needed to catch the glider and put it in a separate box as clearly I couldn't get them both back into the same one.  He looked at me and I pointed sheepishly at the glider.  “Yeah, he got out,” I said.  The officer just asked, “Is that a flying squirrel?”
In the midst of this, a firefighter came over to tell me that the house was okay but the siding on the garage and a part of the roof had caught.  They needed to check the attic to be sure there weren't any embers or such but that Chris’s SUV in the garage was in the way.  I told him where to find the keys so they can move the car and check out the attic. At this point, I knew we only had exterior damage.  So whew…except I still had one loose glider.
About then, Chris showed up.  He got a box and the officer let Chris into the back seat.  Now Chris got the snot bitten out of him, but both Gliders were captured again and Chris sat in the back of the squad car, locked in. Yeah, his work buddies really liked that part.
There we were, just watching everything, waiting.  It was a very long time before we were allowed back inside the house—before it had the all-clear.  I sat in the squad car from roughly 5:30 until nearly 8 pm.  Then, when we were good to go, the officer took one of the carriers and helped us back into the house—as Chris had to hold his box shut with one glider.  I had the other glider and one of the rabbits.
The power had been turned back on and everything was working, except for Verizon.  All our boxes, utilities, etc. were along the side of the garage and Verizon’s box had melted from heat.  So we had no tv, phone or internet for a couple of day.  But throughout the needed repairs and replacements, Verizon did a great job of coming out, and coming out again, and again, to fix things.
The main fire truck and one of the squad cars stayed out front until about 9:30 pm.
And for the next two days the gliders slept in their plastic running wheel.  They wouldn't go back into their teepee.
After the clean-upOur insurance treated us real good.  They came out immediately and sent crews to replace one whole slant of roof.  As well, all the siding and insulation along that side were replaced.  And, just about 1 week ago, we’d planted some crepe myrtles on that side of the house and insurance sent us a check to cover their cost.  Our neighbors lost the whole house. It only took four days to tear it down and haul it all away.

For those interested, our house's damage was part of the “exposure report" and not under "fire damage."   Other things I learned: in our area, every station keeps 1 fire truck.  We had 3 trucks, so they came from 3 stations.  The nearest one did most of the work and was out front.  Another truck was at the alley entrance with water cannons atop the ladder.  I also found out that one fireman was injured when he stepped on a nail.  Other fireman at his station said, “It’s too bad he didn’t hit the nail with his head which is a lot harder than his foot.”  I kid you not.  I also learned, because I took a basket of fruit (as a thank you) to our nearest station, the Monday crew wouldn’t be back in until Thursday.  The guys at the station on Tuesday said, “Thanks!  Maybe there’ll even be some left when that crew gets in.  But we’ll take a picture and put it in the fridge for them to see what they got.”  He gave me the case number and where to phone to get a copy of the report and explained about the exposure report.  I said I was glad our house didn’t burn, so we weren’t part of the fire report, and he said we’d still have been exposure…just a lot more involved.
And on the other side of the burning house, the people lost a section of fence and one big tree was burned on one side, but I think it’ll make it.
We’d have taken a LOT more damage, maybe lost our house if not for 4 things:  1) houses in our 20+ year old neighborhood aren’t as close as houses are built today.  2) we have asphalt shingles, not wood.  3) we have vinyl siding, not wood.  Considering how it melted, scorched and warped, wood would’ve caught on fire.  But vinyl has a higher burning point and when it burns, it burns slower. And 4) there really wasn’t much in the way of wind.  And I’ll add a 5th element—God was answering prayers.  I’ll say this for my neighbors—they took their loss with incredible grace.  And for the guys out there…he had 3 cars in his garage at the time and they totally burned.  He lost a rebuilt classic Thunderbird and a rebuild classic roadster.  So car lovers can cry.  Oh yes, for those who don’t know this, if your car is in the garage and the house burns down, taking the garage and the car, the car is NOT covered in the house insurance.  The very fact it’s a car means it's only covered for loss by fire if you specifically have that covered in you automobile insurance.  Apparently, no matter the circumstances of their demise, cars are covered only by car insurance.