Surviving a Fire: A Miracle or a Message?

This could have been my reality!

“Your house is in really good shape.” Those are words that I can imagine every homeowner likes to hear. And, I did too. However, it was not what I expected to hear from Larry, the lead firefighter who had come to my house in response to my 911 call about a ruptured gas line and open flame under my house.

It had been a typical hot summer day complete with a late afternoon thunder shower. When I got home it was raining so hard I decided to hang out in my car until the worst of the storm had passed. I grabbed The Best Year of Your Life, by Debbie Ford, one of several books I’m currently reading, and was feeling grateful for a few moments of alone time to read. Then suddenly there was enormous crack of thunder right overhead that was so loud that I was certain it must have hit a nearby tree. I looked around and saw nothing out of the ordinary.

Shaken by the thunder, I made my way into the house. Once inside I noticed a funny smell. There was a hint of gas and a slight burning odor. I looked around the inside of the house to determine the source. I went back outside and looked at the roof for smoke, but saw none. I even went into the attic because I’d heard that lightning strikes could cause fire in areas of homes that are out of sight. Nothing. I did notice that the smell was stronger on one end of the house than the other. I talked to my husband and asked him if he had any ideas of what could be causing the smell. He had no idea. We have no gas appliances in the house. Our gas line runs two on-demand hot water heaters located on the back wall of the house and our generator, also at the back of the house.

Baffled, but at a loss for what else to do, I went to my office and worked for three hours at my desk. When I finally quit for the night I went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. The strange odor was still present, but hadn’t gotten worse. When I walked across the tile floor, however, I noticed that it was warm. Normally I wear flip flops or sandals, but for some reason that night I was barefoot. The warmth caught my attention. I thought to myself, “That is not normal.” I called Bob and asked if he had any idea what ran under the kitchen in the location of the warm spot. He suggested that perhaps it was due to a hot water pipe. Had I been using the hot water? No. He hurried off the phone to handle a psychiatric emergency at work and I was left to wonder about the warm tiles.

At that point I knew I had two choices: do nothing or check the crawlspace. I was worried about checking the crawlspace because I knew that just opening the door to that space could cause an explosion if there was a fire there. Opening the door would let more oxygen into the crawlspace. Oxygen feeds fires. I could call 911 and tell them about the warm tiles and the smell. But, what if it was nothing?I’d regret that I’d called them out for nothing. I decided I had to take the risk and open the crawlspace door. When I got to the door it was stuck, having become swollen by the moisture from the storm. In frustration I hit the door with my fist and it magically popped open. To my horror I saw a six inch blue flame hanging down from a pipe. I ran inside and called 911 to report the fire.

As instructed I got my two dogs and grabbed my cat and waited outside for the fire trucks to arrive. It must have been less than ten minutes before they arrived, but it felt like an eternity. There I stood upwind of my house with my cat pressed to my chest, wondering if my house was going to blow up before they got there. I was never so grateful to see fire engines come down my street releasing their fire hoses as they drove up the street. Five units showed up. Firefighters were everywhere.

When Larry finally came over to me to tell me that all was well, that the gas was off and that they were waiting for the guy from the gas company to arrive, I was so relieved. He told me that the gas line had ruptured, probably from the lightning strike. And, he added, “It’s a miracle that it was not much worse.” The gas man reiterated that message. He told me that my gas line had been between two copper pipes, a perfect setup to spark a flame. The lightning strike was the match.

What’s so amazing to me is that the fire had been burning for three hours while I worked away in my office, clueless to the threat. The fact that it had done no damage whatsoever, not even charring the wood above the flame, is miraculous. Larry the firefighter, the gas man, and the men who came to repair the gas line and ground it all said that it was truly amazing that there had been no major damage.

As I’ve replayed the events of that evening over and over again, I’m struck by the fact that my house was struck by lightning that caused a fire that did no damage. How often does that happen? And, Larry’s comment, “Your house is in really good shape,” struck my as odd, almost like a message or affirmation of some sort. Being a professional organizer and feng shui practitioner I work hard to keep our house clutter-free, and Bob and I both are very committed to taking good care of our house. But, it had never occurred to me that my house might be noteworthy, especially by a young man who has probably seen the inside of plenty of homes au natural (with no preparation for outside visitors) while doing his job. And, I was reading Debbie Ford’s book, The Best Year of Your Life, at the time of the lightning strike. Was the fire a message that even though bad things happen I’m being taken care of? Was it a sign that I should pay attention to the content of the book? Or, perhaps it was an opportunity for me to see that I am capable of problem-solving and taking decisive action in very scary moments that could be life threatening, even when I’m all alone.

Whatever the bigger message, I am so grateful for our good fortune. I’m grateful for firefighters like Larry and his colleagues, who know what to do in emergency situations, for the kind gas man and good help from the Lakeside Heating and AC men who came out the next day to replace the gas line. I’m grateful that by some miracle we were spared a disaster and that our house is still in really good shape!

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