It was two nights before Christmas, and all through the house, Hanukkah candles were burning-all over the couch. The windows blown out, Christmas tree all ablaze, the smell of chemicals floating in a haze.
Walking into my own home after it had partially burned and been damaged by smoke was one of, if not the most surreal feelings I have ever felt during my lifetime. The artificial wood floor and walls were blackened like charcoal monsters. The plastic fire alarms and vinyl solar tubes had melted onto the floor as if they were molten lava flowing from the ceiling. The chemical smell of putrid smoke pervaded my nostrils like it was a sharp knife. I remember it like it was yesterday, not going on five years ago. Ten minutes earlier my mom had called me to tell me that our house had caught fire from Hanukkah candles falling over, or that’s what she thought. The thought struck me immediately: What a horrible Hanukkah/ Christmas gift from the universe, our house being destroyed by a fire on the third night of Hanukkah and the second to last night before Christmas (we were lucky though, it could have been infinitely worse). Our heroic neighbors had been able to put the fire out with a garden hose before the fire department even arrived. My family was not at home when the fire started; I was at a friends house playing video games and my parents and younger brother were at a dinner party. However, our dog and two cats were home and had to be rushed to emergency veterinary care, but luckely after a few days fully recovered despite some trauma. I remember thinking to myself how strange it was to not be able to pull into our driveway as we arrived, because it was full of fire trucks. I thought the only time people’s homes burned down was in novels and movies. Had my life become a series of unfortunate of events? After surveying the damage, I returned to my friends house and my parents to theirs, to try and distract ourselves from the inferno that had occurred.
The next few days after the fire (the event) were a few of the strangest I have ever experienced. We surveyed the damage at our home with the SafeCo Insurance company, they collected our salvageable belongings, and took them to a warehouse in Eureka in order to try to purge the infectious odor of smoke. To provide context, smoke from a house fire is not like smoke from a campfire. It is the most chemical, poisonous, toxic smelling scent that I have ever taken into my nose. The smell clings to everything from clothes to menorah’s and it was hard to remove from my nose, and even harder to remove from my brain (it still lingers there today). Friends donated clothing for us to make it until we could find our bearings and purchase some new items.
For the next five months my family and I stayed in various vacation rentals that my parents manage for their business, while our house was being repaired. We lived a very interesting life during those months. We celebrated birthdays, mourned losses, and lived life- all not at home, however, it was far from bad. We stayed in homes with ocean views that were a great deal nicer than our own, all payed for by our house insurance (Thank god for insurance, am I right?). I distinctly remember one glorious day repairing our home with our contractor, (and that was of course, demolition day). We smashed dry wall with hammers and crowbars, ripped out nails, and filled an entire mega-dumpster with destroyed lumber and damaged flooring. Every bad memory and distasteful moment from my childhood was released on demolition day. It was a rarely awarded opportunity to wipe, or in this case, smash, the slate clean and start over fresh, in a new house but the same home.
We ended up back in our new and improved home approximately five months after the old one had been destroyed. Thanks to my mother’s meticulous cataloging of all our belongings and their value, we were able to replace almost everything. However, we still have what we call “fire moments.” I found myself looking for a nonexistent Christmas tree stand the other day, and we often ask each other: “Where IS that food processor that we own?”
I don’t want to make having my house burn sound like a Christmas or Hanukkah nightmare nor a miracle. It was far from it. My family and I were very lucky in this situation where most are not. Our house didn’t burn down entirely, and we were lucky enough to be prepared with a good house insurance policy. Always remember to keep your Hanukkah candles ( or just candles) away from anything flammable. And like our Rabbi told us, it is okay to blow them out when you leave the home! Also, always keep up on your insurance payments, you never know when you may need it.