Thursday, February 24, 2011

One Fire. Many Heroes.

Last night, the house to our right looking out on the ocean burned down. We are in shock.

No one was hurt. That is the miracle in the story.

It was the wee hours of the night. Mr. Happy Vegan had fallen asleep watching television in the living room, I had fallen asleep watching television in bed. Suddenly, he burst into the bedroom screaming the house next door is on fire, call 9-1-1. Then he was gone. I was disoriented, but understood what he said. As I grabbed the phone, I ran outside onto an upstairs deck, dialing. What I saw was beyond belief. With no exaggeration, it was a raging inferno. The flames were soaring high above the tree line, and all I could hear above roaring flames was "POP POP POP" which was the sound of thick plate glass windows and doors exploding.

I ran out to the normally quiet, starlight street, now glowing bright orange, with a heavy roar of flames. Fire actually does roar, I never really knew that until last night. As I ran towards the flaming house, sparks were flying. I was calling out for Mr. Happy Vegan, where was he? I found him near the house, ready to direct the emergency crews as they arrived. Until they arrived, there was nothing we could do. Nothing. It was such a helpless feeling to stand there and watch. The heat was incredible. Within minutes, we knew the house was a total loss.

Police, fire and rescue personnel arrived. Immediate mandatory evacuation was undertaken, and all guests were evacuated from our inn. We were working to evacuate all of our animals, which was exceptionally traumatic for them, especially Angel our cockatoo, and Pink Moon (who I just posted about, remember?) Mr. Happy Vegan literally peeled Pink Moon off the ceiling of our screened breakfast veranda. I have never seen such terror in an animal. She attacked me, she attacked Mr. Happy Vegan, and ended up hanging from that ceiling (its wood, she embedded her claws on the walls & ceiling) and did not want to come down. She had no choice in the situation, we were not leaving her behind. It was a bad scene.

All the animals were secured in crates, and driven off premises. (Peri's parents secured him safely, by the way).

All this is happening, people fleeing, fear, confusion, and then there's the flip side of this story... the rescuers running into the mayhem, danger & confusion. They have a plan, as they are trained to do. Dozens of vehicles, responders both paid & volunteer were here all night long fighting the fire. Thankfully the house did not have anyone in it, but that was not known initially.... just because a house is supposedly vacant does not always mean it is.

I stood on the beach for hours last night and watched many heroes risk their lives before my eyes. There is a very big "back story" to this particular house, but its not relevant here. The person who dedicated so many hours of his life to building that house was a very private person, as so many people who come to the Keys are. I shall not disrespect his memory by making public a life so very private. But, when the house was being built long ago, often times the community came out to help, watch and talk. Community. The house brought the community together then, and decades later, the same house brought the community together again. Some of the same people who were there as it was being built were there to witness its destruction last night. These people were not here just to watch a house burn, they were here to help us. Help us evacuate our guests if needed, offer refuge for our guests if needed, assist with crating and securing animals, and offer comfort and support. Community. Its good where we are.

So, through all these things last night, many heroes spent all night long fighting a fire, protecting surrounding homes (including our own beloved Deer Run). I admit once the animals were safe, my mind shifted to "please do not let this fire spread." We are in the dry season. My mind was racing with thoughts of things in my home... precious few family mementos. Photographs. Letters. Articles of clothing that were mom's, which I still have 25 years after her passing. Not many, but still important to me. Most of what I was thinking of were things that would mean nothing to anyone else but myself and my family. Worthless items in terms of money, priceless to me in terms of replacement. A juice glass. A coffee cup. Mom's glass. Dad's cup. Dad's bottle of alcohol soaked cherries... those stupid cherries the source of decades of family jokes. "Oh please don't let this fire spread" I said over and over. Please do not let Deer Run burn. Those heroes made sure the fire didn't spread, and that Deer Run didn't burn.

Many "what if" thoughts are with us today. What if Mr. Happy Vegan had not heard the fire when he did. What if the fire spread through the dry woods to our home on one side, and the other home where people live too. If only we had heard, or seen, the fire sooner. Thoughts of our guests. Our animals. So many what ifs, and if onlys.

Because of one fire, there is great loss today. Because of many heroes there is not greater loss today. We are profoundly grateful to our community responders, they came from near and far. There are not words to express our gratitude, but we are deeply thankful.

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