"Tim! Our house burned!"
A little after noon today, my Darling Wife called me with these frantic words.
She had gone to the house to check on the plumber's work. Our comfortable house in Vista Park on the north end of New Orleans is scheduled for termination, probably early next month. We plan to live on site in a FEMA travel trailer while we rebuild, so we hired a plumber to make the sewer and water connections available to us even after the house is knocked down and carted away.
"It's all black and burned and the patio cover is down," she said.
I listened breathlessly as she walked around the property, describing what she was seeing.
"It's black. The kitchen's black, the sofa is just black springs..."
A neighbor down the street had gone outside early to enjoy the morning air. It's been getting up to near 90 for the past few days, so mornings are the best time to be outside. She saw the smoke and called 911. It was about 7 am.
Four fire trucks responded. They quickly had the fire under control, but as firefighters are trained to do, they tore out walls and ceilings to make sure it was all thoroughly doused. And they broke all the windows.
My Darling Wife was very upset by the sight. I had to remind her that the house was, well, dead already. What difference did it make? She was upset that there could be a fire at our house, our home, and we did not even know about it. She also wondered who would do this. Who started this fire?
I gave her the phone number to the Fire Department and asked her to call and ask for details.
She called me back a little while later, a little calmer, but still upset. The Fire Department told her an investigation had been started, and that we would receive a copy of the report in two weeks or so.
The neighbor who called it in told my Darling Wife that the firefighters on the scene said it probably started in the attic. We don't know how any fire might get started on its own in our house, especially since the electricity and gas have been disconnected. We can only speculate that a vagrant or vagrants of some sort were there and caused a fire. Was it an accident? We may never know.
I went to see for myself this evening and took these photos. It's hard to believe that after so much destruction there could be more destruction, but there it is.
The incident drove home a worry we all have in post-K New Orleans. That thousands of empty, rotting houses remain standing in row after row of flooded neighborhoods. That those houses are easy refuge for vagrants, criminals and delinquents. That a careless or deliberate fire could erupt from any of them at any time.
The good news here is that the New Orleans Fire Department responded quickly and effectively. I did not see it, but our neighbor said they did a fabulous job all around. When we do return to our still sparsely-populated street, at least I know that someone will come if we ever have to dial 911.
In the end, no one was hurt, and we had already taken everything we could salvage, so it's hard to say we suffered any damage. I've often said our house is "toast;" I just didn't mean it so literally.
To think that just yesterday I was blogging about how good things were going in spite of the beating we took from Katrina!