Burned out

Saturday June 15, 2013

Earlier today we were passed by two fire trucks from out of town, lights flashing, sirens wailing. That didn’t bode well. We followed them until our road came up and we took the turn, and they kept going. When we got home my significant other was looking out the window when she said "The fire is down the valley in the next town." I got out the binoculars and took a look. I thought I knew the road it was on and said so. There was nothing for us to do, so we went about our weekend chores. When I was finished with the mowing I looked down the valley ... no smoke. The fire was out. I said "Let’s get in the truck and take a ride down there and see where the fire was."

We rolled down the windows in the truck to enjoy the beautiful June evening, and as we came to within a mile or so of where I thought the fire had been you could smell it. As we cruised along through our neighboring town we looked up a side hill at the fellow’s home. All of the windows on the second floor were blown out, and there were lots of cars parked up their driveway. The fire had been at the house of the man who had built ours. We were a half mile from where I thought the fire had been, but I guess depth perception at four miles isn’t terribly accurate. In a state of near shock I pulled over, and we walked up the driveway.

As the south side of the house came into view you could clearly see a huge gaping hole in the roof that was more like a long gash, and the interior appeared to be gutted. The attached garaged was just a wooden frame, and the workshop was completely gone. There was a skeletal rectangular metal frame in front of the workshop and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Half the town’s population was standing around looking at the ruins, and my fiancee began talking to the owner while I struck up a conversation with his son. Fortunately no one had been hurt, not even a pet. I learned the metal frame in front of the workshop was the remains of a motor home, and it had been the cause of the fast moving fire. From what everyone was saying, the home and workshop were a total loss.

Fortunately for the owners, their daughter lives close by in a big house that her father and brother had built. With plenty of extra space that can accommodate the now homeless couple, they will be close by while they rebuild their home. I think the best part is the fact that he is a good builder, and will have an opportunity to build his new home exactly the way that he and his wife want it. The sudden adjustment to their new reality is going to take some time, but sometimes life takes this kind of radical turn, and if you’re fortunate you can make it work to your advantage, albeit with a great deal of inconvenience.

I’ve known several people who lost their homes to fire in the past couple of years and it reminded me of my daughter’s former boyfriend from France. He was incredulous as we drove him around looking at the Vermont and New Hampshire countryside with all of the wooden frame homes. "Zey Vill all burn! Ziss is crazy!" he exclaimed. He was from the provincial city of Rennes in Brittany, where all the homes are pretty much built from stone. Maybe the folks I know who lost their homes to fire wished their homes were made of stone, but it isn’t really cost effective. My guess is that if your home in Brittany was gutted by fire you would rebuild within the same constraints as the stone walls that were put up several hundred years ago. One of the people I know who lost his home rebuilt with the assistance of an architect and it is a stunning work of angular modern art. It sounds like more fun to rebuild in a different style than to simply replicate what you had.

That’s the thing about loss. It isn’t always a real loss because sometimes it gives you an opportunity to get a "do over." Losing all of your belongings in a house fire is devastating, especially when you consider the complete loss of personal items that have meaning in your life. However, its just stuff. Everyone accumulates stuff, and quite honestly in these times we often have way too much stuff. Who needs a personal organizer when all your stuff gets wiped out in a fire? Now you get to organize it all as you rebuild, and for some people that can be a freeing thing. See? There really is a bright side to getting burned out.

Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.


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