I got home tonight, and as usual went down to the wood pile and grabbed some wood to start a fire in the woodstove. Normally, when I get home the house is about 60 degrees or so, because that's what the thermostat is set on when we're gone. It normally takes about 30 minutes for the living room to start warming up. So I start the fire, and go upstairs to change my clothes. About ten minutes later, I hear a weird sound coming from the woodstove -- it's sucking in way too much air, and the pipe is a little red where it joins the wall. Hmmm...No big deal, I've seen these little flue fires before -- you just close the damper, and things are back in control. I closed the damper, and walked outside to look at the top of the chimney to make sure there weren't any problems.
I swear to christ the top of the chimney looked like the torch on the statue of liberty.
This wasn't good.
The wind is blowing pretty briskly, and it's blowing the flames towards this grove of pine trees about 20 feet from the house, and I start to get concerned. I think I'm going to watch this one for a little bit, just in case. I expect that it will go out on its own relatively quickly.
I am wrong, and it starts to get worse, and by worse, I mean now it is not only in flames, but it is sparking and hissing and spitting little flaming pieces of shit down onto the roof, and into the snow next to the house.
I decide I probably need someone in a hardhat and fire-proof clothes to be aware that this is happening, so I call 411 on my cell, and ask for the number for the fire department. I figure I'll tell them I'm keeping an eye on it, and if they want to send a guy with a ladder, we can maybe put it out. I get connected, and it's a recording. I hang up and dial again, and it rolls over to what is apparently 911. Great. I really don't want to make a big deal out of this. Worse case, I can shoot a fire extinguisher up the clean-out.
I tell them it's no emergency, but I have a chimney fire in a stainless steel chimney that is on the outside of the house. By this time, it has blown itself out, and there are no longer any flames. The whole thing is still visibly red, and hissing like all get out. Small hot pieces of junk are still falling once in a while, but most of the impressive fireworks seem to be over.
I explain to them that one guy with maybe a big ladder and a fire extinguisher could do a job on it. I tell them it's mostly out, and they say, "OK, they'll be right there." About 10 minutes go by. Nothing. Another 5 minutes go by. Still nothing. Hunh. At this point I am glad my house isn't really burning, because I would be freaking out. About five minutes after that, I see a pickup truck with a flashing light on it, and it pulls in the driveway. Cool. I tell the guy that it's pretty much put itself out, and that I think I'm in good shape, but if he wants to take a look, we can make sure.
As I'm talking to him, I hear the big air horns, and at least 3 sirens. I suddenly realize this is going to get a lot bigger than both of us in about 60 seconds.
The first truck comes roaring down the street, and into the driveway. It has about 8 guys on it. 3 of these guys are wearing full facemasks, complete with oxygen tanks. Apparently, they don't get to use their equipment too often in this neck of the woods, and they were hankerin' to try it out. Another guy has a video camera, and one more has some sort of remote temperature sensing device. He is fiddling with it like it's a transistor radio and he can't find the playoff game.
I'm trying to explain that everything is fine, and they can probably all pack up and go home. They aren't really listening, since they are busy yanking ladders off the trucks and slamming them against the house, then climbing on the porch and the roof. Then the second truck shows up, and another 6 or 8 guys jump off. 5 of them head toward the front door. They are all talking to each other on their radios.
Keep in mind, these guys are about 20 feet apart, and can actually see each other, but they are still using their radios. I follow the 5 guys toward the house, and all I'm thinking is that I have to stop them before they take an axe to the front door. One guy has some silver fireproof gloves, and a big metal bucket. They all run into the living room, me right behind them, and they make a beeline for the woodstove, which is burning merrily away, minding its own business, totally unaware that the top of the chimney was on fire moments ago.
They are staring at it like a bomb squad about to defuse a nuke in downtown Manhattan.
Then silver glove guy starts prying at the door to the stove. I stop him, then hand him the special tool that opens it, and show him how to use it. Right about then the guy who was playing with the remote temperature thing ("he" turned out to be a woman, actually) brought in some blue plastic tarps and spread them all over the floor. I guess she was sick of them tracking mud all over the place too -- and if the house was going to be on the 6 o'clock news, she wanted the floors to look their best. The idea was nice, but she was a little late, so all she managed to do was cover up the mud and water.
Anyway, Mr. Fireproof gloves gets the stove open, and proceeds to start yanking burning logs out of my woodstove, and putting them in his little bucket. As you can imagine, this instantly fills up the entire room with smoke. I yank open the side door, and yell for him to dump them in the snow. He does so, and then goes back for more. After he's done with the logs, he starts taking apart the inside chimney pipe. WTF?? I can't take any more of this, so I go back outside to see whether they've decided to use the jaws of life to rip down my chimney. I look up, and the dudes on the roof are prying at the chimney cap. Luckily, it's only with a screwdriver. They get it off, and that comes sailing down, hissing into the snow.
One guy is looking straight down the chimney, and he's on the radio to the guy about 16 feet below him, who is looking straight up the chimney, via the clean-out. They decide the chimney is clean, and that it was just the crud around the cap that was burning, and they talk on the radio for a few more seconds, all the while staring at each other through about 20 feet of stainless steel pipe, then start climbing down. The ladder guy hooks my satellite dish by mistake, and I can actually sense it losing signal. I run inside, zig zag between the 6 firefighters in my living room and flip on the TV. Miraculously, it still works. Priorities, man.
Right around this time, my wife is driving home from work, and when she turns the corner, the police and fire department have the road blocked off. They tell her there's a house on fire, but "it's under control." She asks what house it is, and they give her our house number. She completely freaks, thinking our house is engulfed in flames. She tells them in no uncertain terms that if they don't let her take her car up the street to her house, she is getting out right now and running up there. They decide to let her pass, but warn her to stay back.
At this point back at the homestead, the firelady, as I took to thinking of her, wants to go upstairs and use her little remote heat sensor gun to make sure there's no fire in the walls. Keep in mind that this is a stainless steel, insulated chimney on the outside of the house. I nix that idea -- she will have to play with her cool little toy elsewhere. She points it at the woodstove, looking kind of disappointed. "215 degrees," she says sadly, to nobody in particular, and shuts the device off.
So after the trucks are packed up, and I fill out a little sheet of paper, everyone jumps onto their pumpers and ladder trucks and takes off. Home to their families, I'm sure, no doubt to regale them with stories of the inept homeowner who had no idea how he came this close to dying in a blazing inferno, like so much crispy Kurt Russell.
After they left, we clean up the mess, which was considerable. A few burn marks in the hardwood floor from Mr. Fireproof gloves, ground in ashes and bits of charcoal, plus a lot of melted snow. The whole place smells like a forest fire, thanks to them taking the wood out of the stove.
Needless to say, we skip the workout, and go straight to the gin and tonic.
I learned a couple of things today.
One, the fire company doesn't respond as quickly as I thought they would, but then again, they're volunteers, so I suppose they have to get to the station, get dressed and then head out.
Number two, they have lots of cool toys they are just dying to use.
Number three, they live for this shit. Seriously. It was like watching, well...like watching a fire drill. Parts of it were like watching a chinese fire drill, but all in all, I'm glad these guys volunteer to do this kind of thing. Cops, firemen and soldiers. I respect them all immensely, and the jobs they have chosen to do. I'm serious when I say this.
Just as long as they don't fuck up my satellite dish, we're all good.