Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Burn, Baby, Burn

A person who has never experienced a house fire cannot possibly imagine the sense of loss one feels. The house itself is not what I missed. It was losing things like photographs, favorite and cherished things that have a special meaning only to you, and even favorite clothing. That is if you are lucky enough to not lose a life.

One of my favorite pictures is of us five children standing in front of the Christmas tree. We were dressed up and all had big smiles on our faces. We were going to leave for Grandma's house the next day to visit her for a few days.

It had been a wonderful Christmas. The gift that stands out most is my sister's kitchen set. It was a little metal stove, refrigerator, and table. She loved them so much. They were big enough for her to feel like she was really working in the kitchen. The boys got yet another train. My sister and I always got a doll.

Now I never played much with dolls. They were rather boring. After all I had always had real babies to play with. After opening the dolls we got that year I realized that my sisiter and I had 18 dolls between us. I gave her all of my dolls but one. I hardly ever played with her but she was special to me for some reason.

After a good night's sleep we went to Grandma's. Grandma had one bedroom upstairs that Mom and Daddy would sleep in. We slept on the floor. I did not find it strange at the time that her spare bedroom downstairs was not used. Anyway I liked that bedroom upstairs. There was a risque ashtray on the nightstand.

The first night we were there we were getting ready for bed. Mom was reading to us and trying to settle us enough so we could sleep. Grandma hollered up the stairs that Daddy had a phone call so he went down to answer it.

Being the nosy thing I was I followed him downstairs. He got on the phone and was saying, "Fire? How bad is it?" and similar things.

I went running back up to tell Mom that I thought our house had burned down.

Mom was the voice of reason. Daddy was the town marshal which meant that he was also the fire chief. She said they were just keeping him informed. I argued that they would not call him about just any old fire.

Daddy came up and said that out house had indeed burned completely to the ground. The principal of our school did not know that we were out of town. He went into the house to try to get as many of us out as possible. He was in the hospital because he inhaled smoke and was having breathing problems.

Some of the volunteers who served as firefighters tried to save things by hooking them through the window and pulling them out. They were able to save Mom's iron, Daddy's suit, and Mom's Bible.

When we went home we visited the spot where our house had been. I remember looking at the melted mess that had been my bed. The washer and dryer were still on the back porch but the seals were all burned so they were no good either.

The town had found another house for us to rent. It was much bigger than the other one. It was right across the train tracks from the first house. They had also had a fundraiser and deposited the money in a department store in the next town. We were getting all new clothes. And store bought clothes at that.

The first night we spent in that new house I suddenly began to cry. My doll burned in the fire and I was finally able to use her as my focus to mourn what we had lost.

I had a little friend who had three little brothers. She was actually a couple of years younger than I was. I spent a lot of time at their house because the little girl who was about 7 or 8 years old was expected to take care of her brothers while her mother was gone, which was most of the time.

I worried about them and because I was older I tried to take care of them too. When Mom found out what was going on she told me they were not my responsibility and I should not go there any more.

We moved to a new town. I was in the basement helping Mom do laundry. She chose that time to tell me about a news article she had read. The mother had another baby but she did not take care of that one either.

One day the little girl had gone to the store to get them something to eat. Her brothers were playing with matches. They would light tissues on fire and watch them burn. So that they would not get caught they were lighting them and throwing them under their bed.

The bed caught fire and the fire spread quickly. The bodies of the boys were found in a kneeling position, as if they were saying their prayers. I believe they were trying to put out the fire. The sister survived because she was not there. I was heart-broken.

We lived in a duplex. That is a house in which two families have their own quarters side by side. It's two houses in one. The other side was empty.

My oldest son, my third son, and my daughter lived at home with me. My second son was married and lived a couple of blocks away with his family.

I was visiting a friend one evening. It was very late when the phone rang. My third son was on the phone. Our house was on fire. They were all out but I could tell he was terrified.

My second son got them to his house which was a good thing. Everything was blocked off. I met them there.

The reason the roads were closed was that there were three fires withing a half mile or so on that street. An abandoned building just south of us had been fire bombed. Then our house was fire bombed. Then a railroad car carrying some sort of wood chips was fire bombed.

My children had been in bed but not asleep. They heard something hit the front door. My youngest son looked out the front window and saw the porch burning. He called the other two. Their dog slept in my oldest son's room and came down with him.

My oldest son felt the front door and knew they could not get out that way. So they rushed to the back door. Of course there was a certain amount of panic but they were safely out. The house was burning fast.

The dog balked at the kitchen and the kids yelled at him to come out. He thought they were angry with him and ran back into the house. My oldest son wanted to go after him but was afraid the other two would follow him. And they told me they would have.

It soon became unsafe to stay in the yard so they went to the street in front of the house. My oldest son had on only his pants. A neighbor was kind enough to offer him a blanket to keep himself warm. He shared with the other two.

After the fire was put out my older two sons and their father who also lived nearby went to the house to see if there was anything to salvage. The dog had been hit by a falling beam. We hope that was what killed him and that he did not suffer too much.

Not much was found. There was a photo album that somehow did not burn or suffer water damage. Everything else was destroyed.

My oldest son could not go to work. He had no clothes. His boss was wonderful. My son had left his work boots at the shop so his boss brought them to him. He wanted to make sure my son was okay. He said that my son should take a few days off anyway and not to worry... he would see to it he was paid.

In losing the two houses to fire I was so fortunate that no one was seriously injured. I still feel bad when I think of those three little boys and the baby that died in the other fire.


  1. What a sad, sad post this one has been, Emma. I could hardly believe the tragedy of your house burning down when you were a child, then your friend losing her siblings, and then the fire bombs. While I was glad to read your family survived, not so for the others who perished. Why were there several fire bombs in the area at the time?

    1. The firemen thought it was the work of some boys from the same family. Apparently their father was in prison for arson and they had his love for a good fire. Of course there was no evidence so I cannot be certain it was them. I have to believe that in the instance of our house they did not stop to think that we would suffer any loss. Maybe they thought only the empty half of the building would burn.