I’ve had what you might call a Bad Week.
First, the neighbor’s house, three houses down, burned to a crisp on Sunday, and I slept through the whole thing. I didn’t even know what happened until I read about it in the newspaper on Monday morning. (“Total loss of house and all its contents, estimated at $150,000, only occupant escaped but dog perished. Six units responded plus the area volunteer FD”.) How do you sleep through that? Seriously, that alarmed me. In my defense, it was 4:30 in the morning and my own dogs never barked. The next door neighbor’s dogs barked their heads off, which did wake me up, but their barking is so common that I gave no thought to it. They are kind of like car alarms…is there anyone on the planet who pays attention to car alarms?
On Wednesday I got a haircut and discussed it with my hairdresser, whose husband is a firefighter. She said, trying to make me feel better about it no doubt, that when the trucks get where they’re going they turn off the sirens. Well yes, but they leave the lights on. However, further in my defense, while it was only three houses away, it was around the corner and on a different street, and down a hill, and almost completely obscured by trees. (Think: urban forest.) Unless I was really, really awake, I couldn’t have seen the lights either. Still, I confess, I was shaken. I didn’t know these neighbors or their dog, but I felt a lot of grief for the poor helpless dog. I need a thicker skin, in some situations.
On both Tuesday and Wednesday I combed the newspaper looking for followup articles telling us how the fire started. The original article said the Tallahassee Fire Department and the State Fire Marshal were investigating. Megan, the hairdresser, said that if there was no news yet, that probably meant they suspect it was arson. If so, it may be months before we hear.
Megan said there are many, many more instances than ever before where people are setting fire to their houses because they can no longer afford the mortgage. Holy shit, pardon my language–I never even thought of that, although it makes perfect sense. Apparently fire investigators are like homicide investigators…the latter always assume a suspicious death is murder unless proven otherwise, and fire investigators assume it’s arson.
So I said, while I didn’t know these people, I think they were renters although I’m not sure. Why would you set fire to a house that wasn’t yours, and even if you did own it, why would you set a fire which kills your dog? And Megan answered, chillingly, you would be surprised at how many arsonists do just that. They deliberately set fire to their homes and kill the family pet, thinking that the arson investigators will think like you do–they could not possibly have done it. But arson investigators don’t think that way.
The other alternative is that the dog died accidentally. The person who set the fire, if they did so from inside the house, may have thought they had enough time to get the dog out. It was only recently that I read an article about a 62 year-old man from Port Orange, Florida who set fire to his restaurant.
He had gotten a divorce, and the day before he was to turn the keys to the restaurant over to his now ex-wife, he decided to set it on fire. Except he did it from inside the restaurant, was overcome by smoke, and died. This is not what I call successful revenge. As one person I mentioned this to said, Good work. Now she gets the insurance for the restaurant, and the life insurance too. Ouch. Cold, but true. At the very least, this guy qualifies for a Darwin Award.
Megan said, people don’t realize how quickly you can be overcome by smoke. A few whiffs and you’re unconscious. (Which makes you wonder…how did the person in my neighborhood make it out of the house, but the dog did not? Hmmm. ) She reiterated the thing that every school child is taught: Stop, drop, and roll.
While that is intended to tell people what to do if their clothes catch fire, the drop part is the most important. Megan said, at the first whiff of smoke, drop (so you get under the smoke) and start crawling to an exit. Get out, out, out. Even if you catch fire in the process. Then you can do the roll part. You may get hurt, and hurt badly. You may even die. But if you stay, you will surely die. 100% guaranteed.
Frankly, fire is not one of those things I worry about. But now I am. I asked myself why you send six fire trucks to a house fire, and then answered my own question. It’s the trees. (Think: urban forest.) The house in question was on stilts, up in the trees like a tree house. If the trees caught fire, you would have had a major wildfire that would have threatened dozens of homes.
It was just…scary. And that was only Monday.