Dec 26, 2010

House Fire

Well, it's been quite some time since I've been able to add anything here. The first reason is that I moved. It wasn't a long move, just across the street or so, but with no money to spare, I was the grunt labor. And for a week I was occupied moving, then a week without Internet waiting for it to be installed. Then the next challenge came along.

A fire broke out in a garage not directly next to our apartment, but directly next to our garage. it was net to apt A and we were just moved into apt C. I will get into lessons learned in a moment. Some how we all got lucky and no one was hurt, but the folks in apt A were almost completely burned out, some how my mothers car (which was in our garage at the time) went unscathed as well as my kids Christmas presents, although the flames were beginning to enter our side before the firemen got it under control. Let me take this moment to give props to the Modesto FD.

Now I didn't know originally until my mother called me at about 7:45 pm, as I was visiting friends in Merced at the time (which for those that don't know, is about an hour a way) so I jumped in my car an zipped home as fast as I could. I told my mother to grab my external hard drive, as that was the only thing from my bug out list (other than food) that had been moved into the new place that couldn't be replaced. Actually, looking at the grand scheme of things, of property, it was the ONLY thing that can't be replaced. Anyway, she told me that the firemen wouldn't let her back in to get anything. (see lessons below)

45 minutes later I arrived on scene to find the fire basically out, with firemen searching out hot spots, and tearing out chunks of ceiling in apt A where the fire had tried to spread. My mother was standing outside in her bathrobe and bare feet.

My brother and his wife showed up shortly after wards with a pair of slippers for my mother. The Red Cross also arrived and while I have misgivings about them, they did get us a motel room for three nights that we didn't have to pay for.

Anyway, by about 11 pm the firemen said everything was safe and that we could go back in to get anything we needed. I had been smart enough to bring my daily carry bag from my car, which turned out to be a smart move as we needed flashlights (I used my head lamp for the first time and highly recommend you get one for your kit as well if you don't already have one) Also one of the families was as bad off as my mother and the mom was carrying around her daughter trying to keep her warm. I reached in and gave her one of my girls undie/sock sets that I carry, unfortunately I didn't have any shoes for the little girl on me.

We learned that the power and gas lines had to be CUT so that the entire row of four apartments were no longer livable. And the roumer was that it could not be repaired for weeks if not months.

Some of what I grabbed was food. The Red Cross said we had food in the house, so were not going to provide us with any help there. Unfortunately my mother can't keep her mouth shut, and was talking nice and loud to everyone about all of the Canned food we had. Sadly we lost most everything in the fridge, and we had just gone grocery shopping a couple of days earlier.

Funny thing, motels frown on you cooking in the rooms. They did provide a microwave, so I could make top ramen and soup...
... Except for one small problem, we couldn't find a can opener. Fortunately in my daily carry kit I had a P38, which is a military can opener you can get at any surplus store.

For my my mother and I, we were given the opportunity to move to a new apt not too far away, and had began moving our things in last Thursday.

One last thing to note. My mothers other truck, a little beater, got broken into the next morning. Nothing was in it, so nothing was stolen, but her dash was ripped up when they tried to take the radio. Before we had left that night the property management company had a team on site to board up the garages and apt A, and everyone (neighbors and family included) said that her truck would be fine overnight on the street.

Lessons learned
1- having a Go Bag ready is all great and fine, but if EVERYONE in your home doesn't have one, or, if there is no evac plan in place, someone in your family is going to get screwed.

My mother panicked and left the apt in nothing but a bathrobe. No clothes or shoes and no documents, nothing.

2- now ordinarily I would say you should have a change of clothes in your vehicle at all times, but in this case that wouldn't do any good as her vehicle was in the garage next to the one on fire and by the time we could get to that vehicle we could also get into the apt. So, on top of everything else you should set up an off site cache of duplicate documents (paper, digital, photo, etc) and I guess you need a change of clothes for each family member in each vehicle.

3- being a refugee is not fun. The motel was a nice God send as we are broke from the initial move. But it is important to have a fallback plan in case of displacement. And everyone involve in the plan had better know about it. If we didn't get the motel room, my mother would have had to stay with my brother, I would have been SOL

4- vultures. After (or even during) a crisis the vultures start circling. While the firemen were there a guy showed up offering "free" help with sealing up our garage and routing power and gas back into the apartment in a day or two. Free meant that he would bill the renters insurance that we hadn't had time to get. His company, and presumably others listen to the emergency bands to swoop in like an ambulance chaser.

5- Insurance. Get it. That's why we are prepers/ survivalists, as insurance against bad things happening. If we had time to get some it would have covered a lot; motel cost, damage replacement, moving cost (Boy I wish I had that one) and damage repair costs.

6- food
We all understand the need for food storage, but if the fire had gotten to my apartment, I would have lost everything. Caching is something I discussed in another post, but situations like this make me appreciate the necessity with crystal clarity.

And even while we had food, we were limited in how we could prepare it while following the rules.

7- blabber mouths. As I said my mother couldn't stop talking, and was beginning to cause us problems with our getting help. If you have someone like that in your family (or if it's you) have someone responsible stay with them to keep them under control if necessary.

8- charity. After we got to the motel, I went back to our apartment and grabbed a couple of toys, coloring books crayons and reading books from my kids room to give to the little girl so that she would have some stuff to play with and keep her occupied. I discussed it with my girls to let them know what I had done, and they, with out any prompting from me want to giver some things from there moms house as well. They also made the ex go out of her way to deliver them, because they wanted to give them to the little girl in person.

Charity is important in times of need, even if you have little, if someone has nothing, you have more and if you can share, you should.


  1. Sorry to hear about the tragedies. Glad no one got physically hurt though! my brother's place also got hit by fire (similar instance where it started in an adjacent apartment) a year ago and he lost alot but at least had renters insurance.

    However, you missed one lesson, your HD. I try to keep most of my really important documents mirrored online on dropbox. This way if my computer gets hosed, at least the very important stuff is saved. This won't help with massive picture databases of course, but its a bit nice.

    If you want to go to the total safe solution, keep a mirrored HD in a safety deposit box or some other offsite location. Own two so you can swap them out weekly or monthly.

  2. Glad to hear everyone is okay. I think it's wonderful that your girls wanted to do that to help. :)

    Unfortunately, having a blabber mouth in the family is something I completely understand. One thing I've learned is that you can ask them, beg them, bargain with them, and they're still going to do what they do. I've already told Brendan to kick me if I get like that later in life as it seems to be something mothers are prone to. About the only thing you can do is try and direct the conversation and sometimes even that won't work. I suppose duct tape is an option, but not a very diplomatic one.

    I agree with Ryan on keeping mirrored HDs or using an online back-up site. I have no idea if they'd still have them, but I got a 2TB external Seagate HD at Costco for $99 that I'm using for general back-up purposes.

    Also don't think twice about contacting friends for help in these types of situations, too. It's easy to fall into the "I don't want to bug people," line of thinking but if someone is actually a friend, they won't mind a bit.

  3. Both of you are absolutely correct.

    I need to get an additional backup drive that I can keep off site. I've of course heard of online back ups, but am hesitant to entrust my documents (And yes "massive picture databases") to someone or someplace not under my control.

    Also, it costs money, which I generally don't have. I can afford a one time purchase of a HD but not an ongoing monthly payment (or whatever the schedule is)

    As far as blabber mouths go, I realized after some thinking, that adrenaline, because of the situation, may have been a contributing factor. She was all keyed up, with nothing to do. Some of our neighbors who smoke, probably went through a pack of smokes that night for the same reason. This is not an excuse, just an observation.

    I know now that she will need constant monitoring in future events, and I will have to intercede as necessary in those instances.

  4. I don't know if there is a similar option for other forms of data, but one option for online picture storage that you can control is Photobucket. There are probably other picture storage sites, that's just the one that came to mind right now.

    Good luck with the monitoring. I've tried with mine for 30+ years and there is just no controlling that woman once her mouth gets going.