Monday, August 4, 2014

[Trigger warning: Discussions and photos of fire and fire damage]

It was a rare Friday that George didn’t have to work at 4am, so we had planned to hit up Bed Bath  & Beyond and the grocery store in the morning. We planned to leave the apartment at 9, but I was being lazy and sleepy and making a list of the ingredients we needed to make our famous chocolate chip cookies when the fire alarm started blaring.

Years of false alarms in college conditioned me to lazily and sleepily put on jeans, grab my cell phone, and some entertainment for the hour we’d wait in the student center waiting for the burnt popcorn smell to clear. George, the more cautious of the two of us, looked out into the hallway where our upstairs neighbor was running down the stairway in her bra asking for a fire extinguisher. It was when her boyfriend ran down the stairs in his boxers and we could hear the sirens approaching that George said, “We’re going. Right now.”

We tried to get out the back door, but there the back stairs was weighed down with fire fighters in full gear. “Go out the front!”, they yelled.

So, we ran down the front stairs and we could already smell it. As we stood outside of our apartment building, black smoke billowed from every window in the apartment above ours. More fire trucks arrived, the hose started its journey up our staircase, and neighbors I’ve never seen before started gathering. Glass fell from the third floor as the fire department broke every window in that house. They set up their big ladders and started climbing on to the roof.

The two from the apartment on fire were sitting in the grass being treated with oxygen. We felt so uncertain, so shocked, so pained.

Walking in to our apartment for the first time after being allowed back in our building, I just started bawling. I’ve never seen damage from a fire before. I’ve never seen the black soot streaming down the walls or tar dripping from the roof or water soaking through every wall.


Luckily, the damage to our apartment was confined to the kitchen, so only our cookbooks were ruined. George and I ran back and forth that day from the kitchen to the dining and living rooms, carrying dishes and glasses and food from the kitchen, where it was raining warm, brown water.


We relocated to his sister’s and his parent’s house while we came to terms with the fact that we would have to move. Fast. The water damage to our apartment would take months to fix.

The last week has been a whirlwind. Full of frantic calls to our parents, realtors, insurance agents, friends, movers. But somehow, by Grace, we were able to find a new place to live, break our lease, and move into the new place in 8 short days.

I went to a trauma training at church once after the Joplin tornado, and they told us that someone who has undergone a trauma has to tell their story 50 times before they can begin to heal. Consider this one of those times, but we are healing.

I can’t even begin to express the gratitude for everyone who sent texts, calls, emails, and prayers our way. To those who put us up, let us store our food in their fridge, gave us hugs, and helped us move. We are so grateful.

We have been blessed with a support system beyond measure. And today just so happens to be 2 years from our first date. Happy anniversary, fella.

photo (21)


5 thoughts on “Smoke

  1. I have been in HHI and just read the full account of your.trauma. I cried when I read it. So glad you and George are Ok. Even my being the daughter of a fire chief cannot comprehend the horror of this experience. God bless you both.

  2. Thank you for the blog , Ruth, and update on your move. Thankfully, no one was injured and you and George are safe in a new apartment that is all set and ready to go. Yes, it is a blessing to have such a helpful and ready network of friends and family. Hope you are able to enjoy some quiet moments as you head home to Kansas for a few days. Take care and see you very soon! Love, Lolo

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Just read this account of your horrible experience. Both dramatic and traumatic! I cannot imagine what you and your neighbors have been through. I think Hallie said they lost their pets….how tragic! Buying both my mom and myself fire extinguishers. Glad you got moved successfully, but sorry you are farther away from Hallie and Matt. Much love to both of you!

  4. Ruth, you really brought the experience to life! I feel like I was right there with you and George as you mushed your way through the details of you ordeal. What I admired most was the fact that, in the midst of your circumstances, you two reached out to the couple above you, expressing sympathy for the loss of their pets. You are one very special couple! Megahugs and love to you both.

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