Fire is the enemy

I said this to a friend recently.  Fire is the enemy.

I had been wondering what I should write about next.  And then, this past weekend (4/28) happened.  My son’s apartment building caught fire and is in total ruin.  As I wrote in Inspired2belong, this is the second fire my family has experienced in 5 to 6 years.  In many ways, it was different.  In some ways, it is the same.

It is odd that I just quickly responded with “fire is the enemy.”  I live in an area that is prone to tornadoes.  I don’t say, “air is the enemy.”  I have lived through 7 hurricanes if I recall right.  Certainly those were also with more frequency than I have experienced fire.  I don’t say, “water is the enemy.”  There was once a minor earthquake where I live.  I definitely don’t say “earth is the enemy.”   I worship a sun goddess whose very symbol is a burning ball of gas.  Fire shouldn’t be an enemy; it should be a friend.

Many of you reading this are probably my SCAdian friends and nothing is finer than gathering around a fire, telling tales, and drinking homebrews.  I enjoy it too.  And yet, I do believe fire is the enemy.

Of all of the “natural” disasters, fire feels the most personal.  In urban life (wildfires are different), fire disasters are all man-made, either through carelessness or design.  The smell of burning construction materials is pervasive.  We stopped by my son’s apartment building to see if we could get in.  That smell that I will never forget was there.  Fire changes what it touches.  Beauty becomes ash.  Soot stains all it touches.

Fortunately, we all had a sense of humor about it.  I remember joking with the firefighters years ago.  My son asked his friend, a math major, what are the odds of someone dealing with two fires in so short a time frame.  The answer is 1 Rowan (his name).  But that smell reminded me of the night of our house fire.  That wasn’t a time of humor.  I stood and watched my house burn to its shell.  The firefighters saved some of our cats.  My wife and youngest (I think) left with them to a friend’s house.  After a bit, my oldest went there too.  There was no need for them to stay around.  I stayed.  I watched and prayed that somehow these firefighters would get ahead of the fire so something would be saved.  They didn’t.  They worked hard.  I wrote a letter praising them to their chief and the local paper.  But fire is the enemy and it only reluctantly gives up ground once it advances.

For weeks, I would have to enter that house, smell that smell, to salvage what we could, to catalog what we couldn’t.  It took months before I stopped waking up at 3:00 am, the time the fire started.  Any siren was intrepretted as coming to me again.  This time at least, none of us stood watching it.  But too soon, Rowan and I will smell that smell again.  It is easier not having watched the fire burn.

Last time, we made some good lemonade from it.  We got the house we wanted.  Unwanted items became money that could become wanted items.  We lost some of the things we would not have chosen to lose.  I think the cats were highest amongst those. We were changed in a various ways.  I think I become more thoughtful, more truthful.  More forgetful too.  I can’t speak for the rest of my family.  But I think they changed too, much for the better but some for the worse.

Anyway, while none of us are hurt, and only a few things were lost (in the grand scheme of things), it is like going through it again. Fire changes what it touches.

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