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Blue Bungalow Farm

Heather Zydek writes about life on the east side of Tosa.

Electrical Fire in the Bungalow

electrical fire, home improvement, fire department

At about 4 p.m. on Wednesday, November 28, our house had an electrical fire. It was the first house fire I'd ever experienced. Hopefully, it will be the last.

Let me back up a bit. A few weeks ago our family decided to spruce up our upstairs TV room as a family Christmas present. The room was carpeted, and like many of the carpets in our old bungalow, this one wasn't in the best condition. So two Saturdays ago I made a rash decision to rip out the carpet, not knowing exactly what I would find underneath. 
 
The carpet removal took about two hours. No big deal.
 
Initially when I decided to pull out the stained carpet in our TV room, I figured in the interest of saving money we'd just live with the condition of the floor, whatever that might be. If it was bad, we could always throw down an area rug. But the wood turned out to be pretty worn and stained. Covering all the stains would have required multiple rugs, which might have cost as much as refinishing the floor of the 300-square-foot room. So I called our wood floor refinisher David and asked him to refinish the floor for us.
 
It was a small job, so he managed to squeeze it in during his busy pre-holiday season.
 
He came over the following Monday for the first round of sanding. Everything went well.
 
Then he returned on Wednesday for a second round. He plugged his sander into the outlet and started working. The sander was probably the most powerful tool we'd ever plugged in upstairs, but it was a residential-grade machine David bought at Home Depot. It was designed to work with a standard 120-volt outlet.
 
About halfway through his sanding work that afternoon, he came downstairs.
 
"I just blew a fuse," he said. 
 
"I'll go turn it back on," I said.  
 
David hesitated. 
 
"OK, but can you come upstairs first? I want to show you something."
 
We went upstairs. 
 
"Do you smell something burning?" he asked. 
 
"Not really." The air smelled like a freshly sanded wood floor – if you've never smelled this, it's like a mix of sawdust and burned wood. 
 
"I definitely smell something burning," he said. 
 
"Maybe it's your machine overheating or something."
 
"No," he said, "I don't think so."
 
David traced the smell to the small closet in the TV room. We looked inside and at first didn't see anything. Then I looked up and saw an orange glow at the top of the closet, where the wall met the ceiling. 
 
As soon as I pointed out the glow of fire to David, we leapt into action. 
 
I ran to get two fire extinguishers from our kitchen. My husband Steve happened to be working from home that day, so he jumped in to help. David quickly extinguished the fire. 
 
For a few minutes, we thought we were in the clear. 
 
We weren't exactly sure how to proceed, but we knew we needed an electrician's input, and soon. Luckily, an electrician lives two doors down from us. So I ran over to his place. He wasn't home from work yet. 
 
When I returned to our house, Steve said we needed to call the fire department just to let them know what happened and to be sure the house was OK. 
 
They sent a truck over a few minutes later. When the crew went upstairs, they felt the wall and said it was hot. Using a thermal imaging camera to search for heat above the ceiling, they were able to locate smoldering insulation in the attic. They busted through the ceiling and found smoke near two burned out electrical tubes and the insulation surrounding them. One of the firefighters squirted water into the attic with a small hose (probably attached to a hand-pump extinguisher – I was too distracted to notice) and put out the fire. 
 
Here's a short video of their work:

 
An hour and a half later, after proclaiming that the fire was completely out and the house was safe, the fire fighters left. We called our insurance company  to start a claim and cleaned up some of the mess.
 
Though the house smelled of smoke and half the upstairs power was out, the house was safe enough for us to remain at home.
 
Safe, yes, but comfortable, not so much. Every time I walked past the area I had to look at this image:
 
 
 
It was a pretty unnerving sight.
 
Several days later, after coordinating plans with our insurance company and contractors, reconstruction of the room is about to begin. The repairs are supposed to take about a week. 
 
I'm so thankful that soon we'll be able to move on with our lives. And I'm thankful that we averted a much bigger disaster. 
 
Right after the fire happened, I felt anger and frustration at the destruction of my house. I'd spent months with my home in disarray while we demolished our kitchen floor and then waited for it to be refinished. Finally – FINALLY – the house was coming together. Once David was done with our TV room floor, I would have been able to put in place our brand new couch (delivered two hours before the fire but not in the room at the time) and we'd be done with home improvements for a while. 
 
Well, you know what they say: the best laid plans of mice or men often go astray. The lessons here are that you control nothing in life, and that as bad as things might seem, others have it much worse. One of my sisters wisely said that a small crisis like ours makes you realize how much people lost during Superstorm Sandy. I've lost so little by comparison.
 
And what have I gained? Perhaps our own lives and the lives of our children. Perish the thought of this electrical fire happened by some other cause in the middle of the night. The fire could have destroyed our entire home, or worse. In that sense I think we are all thankful that the fire broke out when it did, in the way that it did. So my rash decision to rip out carpeting on the heels of another huge flooring project might have actually been fated. 
 
I'd like to think that, anyway.

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