Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Our Electrical House Fire ~ December 23, 2012

Hubby and I were having trouble sleeping on the night of December 23, 2012 and it turned out to be a good thing!  

It smelled like when you turn on the furnace for the first time for the season, but heavier.  I kept feeling the walls, but they were cool. Hubby finally went out to see if the smell was coming from outside.  Right about the time he was giving up, he looked up at the roof right above our master bathroom.  There was snow covering the whole roof except for that one area.  It had melted.  He came back inside and felt the ceiling above the shower and it was hot.  We called the fire department at 12:24 and all got out safely.  

It seems that it could have been smoldering from about 7 or 8 pm the night before, because we had a problem with some electrical outlets in the master bedroom starting at that time.  We had arranged for an electrician to come out the next morning.  Because we could not sleep, we discovered the fire before any of the alarms went off.  This was what prevented even more damage and property loss.  God was watching over us and keeping us awake!

We had some outstanding fire fighters from the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, Stations 17 and 15, along with someone from the Washoe County Sheriff's Department. 

We believed that it was all going smoothly until they decided to haul in the big hose...  Then hubby and I were like, "Uh oh!"  It turned out to be ok, though.  They were just making sure that it was completely out.

We were out of the house for 4 months and 1 day while the house was getting repaired.  (I did not write about this here until after we returned home, just to be on the safe side.  I did not want to announce that our house was empty to people we do not know.) 

Besides the master bathroom being basically gutted and all of the insulation throughout the whole attic... there was smoke damage throughout most of the house.  It should not have taken so long, but between some apparent "issues" with scheduling of repairs and slipping through the cracks a few too many times... it did.  We honestly think that if we had gone ahead and stayed in a hotel on the insurance's dime, we would have been back in the house MUCH sooner.  We stayed with my father-in-love so that it would be easier on "Buddy" (who has Aspergers) and our dog (who also has "issues"

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise in a way, because we were with my father-in-love A LOT more than we had planned.  It was his first Christmas without his soul mate. Christmas would have been SO much harder on him if we had not been there with him.  Because it took so long, we were also there over the anniversary of her death and her birthday.  

One of my neighbors could not understand how I was dealing with all of this so calmly and not appearing totally distraught. When I simple just said that I have made it through many more things in my life that were much worse, she was about floored...  But it's true!  This was really bad, but nothing compared to at least three events that come quickly to mind.  I am not saying that a house fire is easy to go through (because it most definitely is NOT), but after we all got out of the house safely... the important stuff was taken care of.  You know?  I do have an extra bit of anxiety now about potential fire hazards and do not like hearing fire trucks, but as a whole... all is well.  God definitely brought us safety and peace.

Most of what was damaged was actually done during the repairs.  It was a combination of water damage from leaving water standing on the kitchen floor for a few days (where boxes of pictures and photo albums were stacked), clumsiness  and plain old disregard for taking care of someone else's breakables. But I keep reminding myself that it could have been MUCH worse.  It is just irritating that almost all of the belongings we lost had to do with human error by those who were supposed to be helping us get back into our house.  Each one of those losses were totally unnecessary and preventable.

We are still unloading boxes... in between our volunteering at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum and me being sick.  But we are SO happy to finally be HOME!  And if I EVER hear (or say) the words, "when we get back in the house...."  ever again in my whole life... it will be WAY TOO SOON!  

* Update: The cause of the fire was that the previous owner had decided that he needed more power in that area of the house when he lived here and instead of adding more adequate wiring, etc. he just exchanged the fuse for one that was double the capacity of the previous fuse and its wiring. We had lived here for a little over 13 years by this time and had just been lucky to have not ever used too much electricity in that part of the house at one time before that night. We knew that he most definitely was NOT the handiest "handy man", but we did not know how dangerous his "skills" were until the fire. 


  1. Wow, that was such an experience! And this wasn't your worst? I can only imagine what you've been through. But thankfully you're fine now. You were really fortunate to have dodged a bullet there. Anyway, were you able to learn what exactly was wrong with the electrical outlets that almost caused the fire?

    Mark Baker @

    1. Actually, there have definitely been a handful of worse experiences. They have all made me a stronger person, though. It is all in the way you look at them and what you have learned by living through them. That is the way I look at it.

      Basically, the previous owner decided that he needed more electrical power and put a fuse that was double the amount that the wiring could handle in the breaker box. I cannot remember if it was a 10-something wire and a 20-something fuse or a 15-something wire and a 30-something fuse, but you get the idea.

      He also was the one who remodeled the garage into the new master bedroom and bath and then added on a new garage. Instead of adding a new fuse to the breaker box, he also was allowed to just add the new garage addition's wiring to that same fuse. This was likely why he later decided it was "easier" to just change the fuse and since the inspection was already passed, it didn't matter.

      Anyway... This new fuse, of course, allowed more power to go through the wires and not flip the switch. Unfortunately, this causes a problem, because there is a good reason why those switches are supposed to flip off. We had lived here a little over 13 years by the time of the fire and just had not ever used enough power to over work/heat the wires before.

      That night we had been using enough power through those wires that it should have flipped the switch in the breaker box, but with the fuse being double the capacity of the wire... electricity kept pumping through the wires. The wires basically melted and the fire smoldered in the attic for several hours before we discovered it just after midnight on December 23rd.