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
A Tornado Tale
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
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
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.
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….
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
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.