“Your barn’s on fire! Your barn’s on fire” yelled the stranger, “Call 911!” she screamed, “It’s bad!!”
My husband and I looked at the woman who had roared into our driveway, her hands waving in the direction of our barn, not believing that this could actually be happening. But the smoke pouring into the sky set Paul running towards the barn.
At first, white smoke poured out of the walls and flames licked out from the soffits on the south side of the barn. The smoke rapidly turned into noxious, black clouds that raked the back of my throat with a biting, acrid taste and tore at my eyes with a stinging blindness.
As we tried to battle the fire with puny garden hoses, it became obvious that we were losing the fight. With an overwhelming sense of helplessness, Paul completely closed the barn doors in an attempt to contain the blaze and prevent oxygen from feeding the fire. But it meant that we could not evacuate any of the things were stored in the barn – tractors, boats, antique car….and our new motorhome, packed and ready to leave for a vacation that was to start the next day. And therefore filled with propane and 300 litres of gas – like a bomb waiting to go off.
All we could do was wait for the Fire Department to arrive. Minutes seemed like hours as I walked in circles, afraid to leave the barn, afraid to stay. Fear set in as I worried that the motorhome would explode and take out the garage and the house.
Panic shattered coherent thought as I debated what to prepare for evacuation from the house if the situation got worse. Our dogs, of course, my purse (for ID, credit cards, birth certificate, OHIP, etc) and my computers….so at least I could continue work after this debacle was all over. Photo albums, videos of our son when he was a baby…..that was all I could think of.
And then, thank god, the Fire Department arrived. It was really only about 20 minutes, but it felt like forever. The men leaped out of their trucks, into their gear and into the barn, plunging into the unknown of the billowing black smoke.
What courage that must take. They knew there was a loaded motorhome just inside the doors; they could see from the outside that the fire was raging in the rafters. Yet in they went.
These are not foolish men; they knew what they were doing and how to handle the crisis – yet I still can’t help but admire the guts it must take to go into a burning barn, where visibility was zero, the toxic smoke was overwhelming and the heat was an inferno that melted everything in its path. From the main floor they climbed the stairs to the hay loft, where the fire roared and hell must be paradise by comparison, intent on chopping a hole into the wall and venting the poisonous air.
As they began to conquer the fire and quell the flames, my husband decided it was time to get the motorhome out. His first attempt – without any breathing equipment – ended in failure and a coughing fit that doubled him over, gasping for air. But a second try with a breathing mask used for spray painting and a flashlight to help him find his way, enabled him to crawl his way into the motorhome, find the ignition and drive it blindly out of the barn. With the Fire Department crew spraying the vehicle down as it exited the doors so it would not ignite once it hit the outside air, Paul drove the motorhome out of the burning building.
Not content with that, he went back in and rescued his motorcycle, gunning the engine with the radio blaring as he blew through the doors, smoke pouring out behind him.
I still don’t know if I should be furious with him for endangering himself, or just plain grateful that he did it and survived. All I can say for sure is that he is alive, and well, and no worse for the wear as a result. Once I get my head together, I may kill him for being so valiantly stupid. The fire may not have finished him off, but it remains to be seen if I will or not.
Two hours after the fire began, the Fire Department succeeded in putting it out. Now there is the long process of insurance adjusters, appraisers, “origin and source” investigators, endless lists of destroyed and damaged items, content evaluators, structural engineers, contractors, demolition and construction.
Most of all however, there is the process of gratitude towards a stranger for pulling into our driveway, for the courageous men of the Fire Department, for my insane husband and the universe for delaying an explosion in the motorhome gas and propane tanks. No one was injured, the barn was not completely destroyed and I have had an opportunity to evaluate what is really essential in my life.