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January 2, 2007

Disaster Averted

If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have absolutely no luck at all. Last night at about 11 PM, Julia was in the kitchen letting the dogs out one last time before bed. I was already upstairs getting into bed when she started calling, "FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!" I scrambled back downstairs, expecting the living room to be engulfed in flames because of our new wood-burning stove. Instead I see bright yellow flames in the back yard, licking up the back side of my garage. It looked like a BIG fire. I called 911 and ran outside to see that Julia was already spraying it down with her kitchen fire extinguisher, which was helping a little. I ran inside and got a larger one from the basement and hosed it down some more, which killed most of the flames. Then I started filling buckets with water and dumping them on the burning embers. By that time, the Chesterland Fire Department was pulling into the driveway in full firefighter regalia, including the masks, and finished dousing the flames with large water cans. They went into the garage (which is, of course, packed full with Buick-related junk) and made their way to the wall where the fire was and hosed that down, too. I managed to move the Buick's front fenders before they could be damaged, and the firefighters (there was one young woman among them, so they weren't technically firemen) graciously used care in moving around the rest of the parts.

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Damage was thankfully pretty minor.

Once the fire was out and the ground was cool (it was about 1 AM by this time--the fire department didn't leave until their thermal imaging camera showed temperatures below 100 degrees at the burn site), we found the source of the fire: our compost heap. As I mentioned, we have a new wood-burning stove for heating our house, and we've been using it off and on for a few days because the weather has been so mild. We cleaned it out on Friday night and dumped the ashes in the composter. Julia says they will be good for her garden in spring. Now, three days later, those same ashes (which had also cooled overnight in the stove, so technically four days later), managed to generate enough heat to burst back into flame on the wet ground, melt the plastic bin and set the garage on fire!

Had Julia not gone into the kitchen exactly when she did, this story would probably have a tragic ending. We were incredibly lucky because I expect that a 156-year-old wooden building would burn pretty well.

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The remains of Julia's plastic compost bin.

IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: Scatter ashes, even cold ones, on the wet grass, not in a pile in an enclosed space.

The fire looked a lot bigger and more intense than it actually was; the damage is pretty minor. The siding is scorched and the paint blistered and the bottom plate of the wall has been burned badly enough that I'm thinking about replacing it to maintain the structural integrity of the garage.

The compost bin, however, is a total loss.

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Last modified on 01/12/2007

Thanks, Fidget!