Every had anything catch on fire?

About a month ago, my dad’s trailer caught fire and burned to the ground, completely destroying the trailer and everything in it. (No, he didn’t have insurance, but that’s another post.) Thinking about it, I realized this is the second fire he’s experienced in about the past ten years–the other was when the engine of his car caught fire.

Hallgirl1’s engine caught fire as well several years ago, but it made me realize I’ve personally never had anything that’s caught fire. Maybe because I’m so paranoid about fire (fire extinguishers on every floor, several smoke detectors on each floor of the home, etc.), but yet then again, in all three instances of fires, there were really no warning signs. (No smoking in bed, no little kid playing with matches, etc.)

Have you ever experienced a fire? Home, car, business, etc.? Do you know what caused it? (Both cars were gasoline leaking after major engine work being done–not by the same mechanic. The trailer, we have no idea.) Did you have insurance? (I’m insured, but the thought of having to replace everything I own is beyond overwhelming. I cannot imagine having to actually do it.)

Three months ago my girlfriend and I were sleeping in her apartment bedroom. At about seven in the morning the sound of her screams awakened me. Still somewhat befuddled from the previous evening’s wine, it took several moments to fully absorb the situation.

Something ominous and orange was glowing in the corner of my periphery, a dull, crackling roar constant in the background. The sound of the flames licking up the walls is a singular, terrifying sound. In hindsight it took us all of a minute to recognize the fire already gaining momentum in the bathroom across the hallway. Adrenaline surged and I vaguely recall saying something helpful like “we need to get out of here now!” as we both sprinted across the carpeted floor. A brief search for a phone and a cat yielded only the latter and in moments two underwear-clad college students and one panicked Persian were banging down neighbors’ doors to call 911. In the three minutes since we’d been awake, the smoke had descended from a thick, ceiling-obscuring curtain to a knee-level wall of opaque, choking black, stinking of burning plastic and I didn’t even make a step through the doorway before being driven back. Wallets and computers would, unfortunately, not be saved that morning.

Fortunately the fire department had an excellent response time and they were chopping holes in the apartment within minutes. I’ve never felt so helpless, standing in the sunrise and watching what was left of my girl’s every wordly possession slowly drifting into the atmosphere in charred, particulate form.

We never really knew what started the blaze save that it began somewhere in the bathroom. The flames themselves were extinguished relatively quickly, and contained to only two rooms and in an hour or two we were escorted through what remained. The smoke damage obliterated the entire apartment. Everything - literally everything - was coated in a solid layer of greasy black, acrid with the stink of burned plastic and utterly useless. Even items in closed, locked cabinets weren’t spared, ruined by smoke. Everything within three feet of the ceiling, even across the apartment from the fire’s origin, was melted into unrecognizable, thready shapes.

Once familiar, walking through that place, with Sunday sunlight streaming through where they’d punched out the ceiling, was an utterly surreal experience. What once looked so familiar, comforting, and safe was now bleak, barren, and alien. If I hadn’t just fled from the place, moments before, I doubt I would have recognized the living room we’d stayed in for two years prior.

The next day we began looking for a new…everything. Fortunately there were few items of irreplaceable sentimental value present in the apartment - nonetheless it cost thousands to replace everything. No renters insurance.

The fire alarm never went off. My girlfriend to this day doesn’t know what woke her up that morning. Two or three minutes later and we would have both died in bed. How quickly the smoke filled the room is, to this day, chilling. House fires are things that happen to other people.

My POS college car, a yellow 1980 Ford Escort, caught fire when it backfired as I was sitting at a light on US Highway 19. Unfortunately, there was a Sheriff in his car right in front of me, and he had a fire extinguisher. I would have been better off if the whole thing had burned to the ground. Instead the wiring harness melted and cost a ton to repair.

Three times:

  1. Dryer lint: happened while I was deployed, no damage.

  2. Extension cord under a carpet in one of the kids’ rooms, also while I was deployed. Smoke damage, fire damage, about $3,000. Nobody hurt. The only thing not damaged was a bible my son had under his bed, which had a black ring around it (cue Twilight Zone music).

  3. I was operating a bucket (boom) truck, helping a metal worker install metal crossarms on ballfield lighting poles. He leaned his bottles against the truck and I took him up with his torch. We’re bullshitting and he’s blowing holes through the metal channel, when I happen to look down and see the grass all around the truck is on fire (from the hot slag), and it’s moving towards the oxy-acetylene bottles. VERY fast descent, he grabbed an extinguisher while I drove out of the flames.

Wow, Tubes! Sorry to hear that. Eeesh that’s scary.
I did have my car catch fire. It was an '82 Buick Skylark. The valve cover leaked, so my engine was pretty much coated with oil. Dust, and leaves, and lots of other oil obsorbant flammable things had collected on my engine because of this. One day the old girl had enough. I had made it about a 1/2 mile from home when the car died. I would find out later (not much later) that the fire under the hood had taken all the oxygen away from the engine - or maybe it just melted neccessary ignition wires.

Of course that wasn’t immedialtly apparent, so I popped the hoood and walked around the front of the car to investigate. It became painfully obvious that the fire under the hood was limited to the amount of oxygen that could get to it. If I had left the hood shut, the fire may have put itself out. But, I lifted the hood anyway and was greeted by the fire flashing up in my face and removing most of my eyebrows.

I slammed the hood down and flames shot out of my front wheel wells. I ran back home to get a fire extinguisher, but by the time I got back, my car was toast. All the paint was gone off the hood and the fenders. The tires were on fire and the windshield had started to sag in. I did manage to put out the flames, but the poor car never ran again.

It was pretty frightening, to be sure.

I should have previewed and submitted the post to my editor first though. You guys make those long, literary stories look so easy. Lets just pretend my life-changing anecdote was really, really well written, mkay?

Did not have anything “catch on fire,” but did have something set on fire. An arsonist spread charcoal lighter fluid on the floor of the 8x10 room connected to our detached garage around 2am one morning. The fellow who I believe was the arsonist then rang our doorbell, and when I got groggily to the door told me he had seen some smoke as he was walking home from his mother’s house (yeah, right) and said we ought to check it out. A quick glance out the rear window proved him correct–we could see flames start to flicker inside the room–and as my wife called the fire department, I went out back with a garden hose and tried to contain the flames to the limited area they were at that time.

The garden hose was no match for the extent of the lighter fluid, however, and the interior of the room was pretty much involved by the time the fire department arrived, just a few minutes after they were called, happily. By this time the Good Samaritan had disappeared, of course. They made quick work of the fire, which had not destroyed much of the framing, but had ruined most of the interior. After they dragged the contents of the room out on to the adjacent lawn they hosed the pile down well. The head of the fire crew looked inside the room and pointed out to me the large oval part of the floor that had burned all the way through, saying that was the mark of someone using an accelerant.

We had insurance, which we applied to rebuilding the room and turning it into an office. The room itself had been added to the garage sometime in the 30s and was not to code even for then. We did all the extras to get it up to code and it became a very pleasant place to work.

Recently my son left the closet light on in his room. In that closet, up on a high shelf I have a box of clothes that he has outgrown. The light in the closet is a naked bulb. At some point someone must have pushed the box over so the clothes were directly touching the bulb.

So he left the light on and went to school. That afternoon we noticed an odd smell, and sure enough, the box of clothes were on fire!

It was quickly put out and there was no damage to anything else. But it took a long time to get that nasty smell out of the house.

A shirt, when I was wearing it. I was reaching over a burner on the electric range. The shirt didn’t even touch the burner and poof! At least it was a slow burn, not a conflagration.

It must have been made in China.

The tablecloth when I was three. My great aunt turned around from the dish sink to see me clapping and laughing, apparently unaware I was about to turn myself into non-buttered toast. An accomplished early pyro, it took me years to develop, “kindle” if you will, less flammable interests.

My house burned down when I was 7.

It was a seven alarm fire - largest fire (still) in the history of the town.

I accidentally caused it, but I blame National Geographic.

Not to hijack but if anyone has this type of lights you really need to replace the bulbs with compact flourescent bulbs. OK back to fire stories.

Apparently I need compact fluorescent pants.

Also, my car caught on fire once, not sure why.

My wife has ignited bamboo steamers (well, incinerated; there was nothing left but a ring of ashes and little puddles of congealed copper from the wire that had held them together).

i tend to flambe in the kitchen. i eat out quite a bit now.

My mother set our kitchen on fire so many times that for her birthday one year we bought her a fire extinguisher.

I accidentally set some tortillas on fire that I was crisping in the oven. The flames went licking up the cabinets and left a thick, black, layer of greasy gunk on them. The kitchen filled up with the most lung-burning smoke you can imagine, all in less than a minute. I put the fire out quickly, but my lungs hurt for hours afterward.

Clearly there’s a story here that we should know about.

My family was visting Grandma when I was maybe four. When we got home, I remember my parents getting really upset, then we stayed in a motel for about a week.

It turned out to be not that bad, as neighbors called the FD in time. But there were some charred walls.

When I was a teen, my friends had a practice of going up into the woods behind K-Mart at night. We’d usually gather up some firewood and build a small campfire to watch while we got high. One night, some of the guys thought it would be totally excellent to steal some wooden pallets (the kind used for forklifts) and make the fire “really fuckin’ huge.” And I must say, it got really fuckin’ huge. We couldn’t control it. So of course, we did what any responsible teenagers would do – we booked it the hell out of there.

While we fled, several fire engines and cop cars showed up. We hid in the bushes and watched. One friend got nabbed by the cops, but they let him go.

Ah, youth.

Wow, this reminded me–Hallgirl1 set her hair on fire during a Christmas service one year at church! It was candles, she was about eleven, with big poofy hair that had been hairsprayed because…well, we were going to church and all that and she wanted to look good for Christmas. It was just a brief catch, quickly extinguished, but produced enough smoke to freak her out (but not stop services) and for me to dissolve in hysterical giggles (the kind you get when you realize that your kid could have burned like toast, but you can’t dissolve in hysterical tears).

It smelled really, really bad.

We still tease her every now and then. And we haven’t been to a Christmas service since.

I think you did a fine job.

You remember that game as a kid where you wrote something on a piece of paper with a toothpick and some lemon juice, waited for it to dry and turn ‘invisible’, and then held it over a candle to make the letters magically reappear?


Fortunately I was able to dump it into the kitchen sink in time, but definitely a moment of idiot-chicken panic flailing there.

Another lesson from childhood: don’t leave candles burning during the night… and fall asleep. I did this one night, leaving something propped up on my bookshelf, and woke up to see a neat little circle of ash, soot, melted wax, and a nasty black burn mark that warped the wood permanently. Thank God none of the books caught on fire, at least.