At about 17:00 (5 PM) Pacific Time (08:00 Spanish time) on Thursday the 1st of February
our house in Washington State caught fire. The friend and neighbor who was taking
care of our place called the Fire Department and they arrived in minutes. The center
of the house was fully engulfed and the flames were coming through the roof. About
23:00 (11 PM) they thought they had it all out and left.
At 05:00 (5 AM) the next morning our friend called them again, it had rekindled and
the living room (the right side in the picture above) was burning. This time it
spread to the hot tub/spa next to the trees (see picture to the left). It destroyed
the hot tub and ruined the gazebo, but it was still standing. They tried to put
this out. While they were doing that my mother had time to drive the half hour from
her house to ours and meet with them.
After a while the Fire Department left but they had not put it out and the fire rekindled
a third time. This time my mother and our friend were there to watch it start and
again called the Fire Department.
This time the gazebo for the hot tub completely burned along with the tub and several
of the trees next to it. This time the Fire Department finally got the fire out
We were notified of the fire by Kathy's mother and we made arrangements to fly home.
Some information for the benefit of our friends in Southern Europe. Most American
homes are built of wood. The floors, walls, ceilings, roofs are all built out of
wood and the supports for them are made of wood. They burn very easily. The concrete,
brick and tile that European homes are made from are very rare in the United States. Nearly
everything you see in the pictures is wood. For instance the walls are made with wood
supports covered with wood paneling (the grey flat surface above) and trimmed with
white wood strips. The floor and roof are made with wood supports covered with plywood. It
all burns very easily.
The fire investigator was quickly there and found the cause of the fire. An electrical
wire running under the study/computer room had shorted and the sparks had started
the fire under the floor. The floor in this room was completely burned away. This
room was in the middle of the house on the view side.
The insurance investigator was there the next day and did their inspection. Nearly
everything is burned or ruined by smoke and water and firemen walking over it all. We
have talked, by phone, with our insurance company and things are going fine so far. We
have made an inventory for them. We had pictures of nearly all the valuable things,
art works, TV, stereo equipment, computer equipment, appliances, furniture, etc.
and this has helped with the inventory.
Below are several views of the house.
East side, the main entrance was in the center of the burned area, the dining room
is to the right and the master bedroom to the left. The opening that looks like
a door to the left is a window that the firefighters cut out down to the floor for
Looking south along the west side of the house. The deck is in front of the house
and has some of its glass railing visible to the right. The hot tub was right in
front of this spot and should be blocking the view of the deck.
This is the same side of the house but from the other end. The deck is on the left
and the last picture was taken from the trees at the far end of the deck.
This is the master bedroom. The opening on the right edge is the window that the
firefighters cut to the floor for access. The closet is on the left, the bed with
its bookcase headboard is in the center.
This is the kitchen. The left side is counter with sink, dishwasher and stove. The
right side is counter with a (tilting) cabinet above it. The center is a stone worktop
with the refrigerator at the far end. The ceiling has fallen in and is supported
by the refrigerator.
Our oak dining room set. One of the chairs has been used to break out the window
for ventilation and is still stuck in the window frame.
This is Kathy's right ankle. She went wandering around in the living room and fell
through a weak spot in the floor. It is a bad sprain/dislocation and she will be
on crutches for two months. I'll bet she did it to get out of helping clean the
We are sorting through the ashes and insulation to find savable things. None of
the furniture or appliances survived. All of the computer equipment and programming
is burned as well as our HD TV and stereo equipment. We are finding some small things
that were in drawers or cupboards, but nothing of any great value.
The insurance company is finding us a place to live (right now we are in my mother's
house). The next thing to do is to figure out the long term future. New rules in
our county will not let us rebuild near the edge of the hill as we were. We will
have to move back at least 100 feet (30 meters). This will raise the rebuilding
expense because we will have to run power, water and sewer lines to the new house
as well as lay a new foundation. We have more than enough room on our property to
do that. We need to decide if we want to replace with another manufactured home
or go with a site-built home. All of this will hopefully happen within the next
We'll post updates as we have them.
Update - May 5, 2007
The fire inspector had found the exact spot and wire where the fire started and had
told us where to look. After we looked at it we decided that a mouse had probably
chewed through the covering and caused the sparks that started the fire.
We spent several days carrying items up to our shop building. It was about 100 ft.
(30 meters) away and was totally undamaged. We used it to store stuff out of the
rain. We then spent a couple of weeks sorting through the salvaged items and ended
up throwing almost all of them away. The items saved would all have fit into the
back of my pickup truck. These items we mostly items in drawers and cabinets near
the floor. We saved some clothes that were in the dressers, everything in the closets
was ruined. We saved some pots and pans, the tableware and a few glasses. And we
saved many of the beads from Kathy's craft room. The problem was that the plastic
boxes they were stored in were all melted on their front sides. Kathy spent many
days with a hammer and a screwdriver breaking into them and putting them into new
boxes we had bought. The other important item we saved was the keys to the Kathy's
Miata and my Toyota pickup. The vehicles were inside the shop and undamaged, but
we had left the keys in a drawer in the kitchen. They were smoke covered but unharmed,
even the remotes still worked.
The next step was working with the insurance company on an inventory of the items
inside the house. The insurance company (Liberty Mutual) had sent two agents up
from Sacramento, California to inspect the house. They had made their inventory
and left before we got home from Spain. With their list, our memory and the pictures
we had taken of all the important items before we left, we put together a comprehensive
list of items, their values and date of purchase. We had "replacement value" insurance
and the insurance company has sent us two checks, one for the house and one for the
contents. These checks are for the "depreciated" value of the items, in other words,
for their used value, not their new value. When we replace an item with a new one
that cost as much, or more, than the old item they will send us a check for the difference.
At the same time as this was going on the insurance company found us a nice two-bedroom
apartment and furnished it for us. We have been here for three months now. The
apartment complex is nice with lots of green spaces with lawn and trees. Our patio
looks onto one of the larger ones.
Next was the demolition of the burned house. We hired a local contractor to come
in and destroy the house and to load it into huge dumpsters for hauling to the landfill. It
took one hour to turn the remains of the house into a pile of rubble and then five
hours to load it into five dumpsters and haul it off. The slowness was due to the
trucker taking an hour to make a round trip from our property to the landfill and
It was a cold and rainy day when the demolition happened, just the appropriate weather
for such a sad event.
Last weekend we had a "Shop Sale" and sold almost all of the tools and junk in the
shop. Now we will sort the remaining into trash, recycle and donate piles and then
clean up the building. We had 25 years of accumulated tools and things that we got
rid of for very cheap prices.
Here are some "before and after" pictures.
Kathy's cross-stitch Blue Heron table runner that she made and some of her pottery
by Ken Edwards from Mexico, also in the Blue Heron pattern.
A lot of hours of careful stitching is burned into the tabletop.
The dining room.
The firemen threw the chair into the window to vent the smoke out of the room.
Read the page Plan D for more information on the future.