Flu and Fires, Big and Small

Some weeks are better than others.

This wasn’t one of them.

Friday night, as my son left his desk, he reached down to unplug a small space heater. We were together in our home office. When he reached for the cord it was scorching-hot, so he quickly pulled his hand away. Within seconds, sparks started shooting from the electrical outlet.

space heater cord

Two-prong plug and melted cord

If you been through something like this, you know that time distorts. It slows down to a crawl, at least in your mind, as you try to absorb the information at hand.

I kept asking my son if he was okay and I could hear him say yes. I asked again and then I asked again, never taking my eyes off the sparks inexplicably shooting out of the wall. What-do-I-do, what-do-I-do, what-do-I-do?

We have a disabled fire extinguisher in the garage.

Useless.

My older son called into the room: “It’s an electrical fire, don’t use water.” Mike headed outside to the fuse box to cut the power.

scorched drapes

Scorched drapes

Sparks shuttered like oil in a hot pan, popping in place on the bamboo floor. Then the drapes caught fire…or didn’t. They’re synthetic, so they started to melt.

Think.

I backed out of the room, grabbed a chair cushion, and returned. Flushed with fear, I smashed away at the sparks. Suffocate the flames. That’s what I’m supposed to do.  Cushion in hand, I whacked at the sparks on the floor. I hit the outlet, apparently breaking the melting cord at about the same time Mike killed the power. I stood there in the dark, waiting for the fire to come back, but just as quickly it was over.

We all handle these things differently. My son joked that it was his “first fire” and I countered, “let’s call it your last.” Mike assured everyone that all was fine. We managed to make light of what could have been so much worse and even sat down to an evening meal.

About thirty minutes later we regrouped, opened the windows to some cool night air, and Mike helped me take down the scorched drapes to help with the smell. I would deal with the layer of soot in the morning.

Saturday morning dawned. Instead of feeling rested, Mike and I woke up with a bad cold.

Actually, it turned out to be the flu. I called in our regrets to a friend’s Christmas party, an evening we hated to miss. My sister and I were attending a card making class on Sunday to celebrate our October/November birthdays. I had to cancel that too.  We slept for hours, fitfully, painfully, all the while hoping our boys remained well.

Tuesday rolled around and I had to cancel my volunteer shift at a food bank. I felt about two feet tall making that call, but there are other days, other shifts, and you realize life carries on just fine without you.

In the words of someone brilliant: This too shall pass.

Having that tiniest of fires in my home taught me how quickly and unpredictably a fire can start and spread. We’re lucky. My son is fine. There is no significant damage to our home and the rest of my family is safe. We lost a few immaterial possessions and as soon as I’m well, I’ll be updating that fire extinguisher.

I’ll never own or use a space heater again.

California Wildfire Update, December 20, 2018

The big fires are out of my control. I’m trying to heed other’s advice by doing what I can without falling into that deep, dark hole of despair.  It’s been a devastating year for our beautiful state.

[The Thomas] wildfire in Southern California that sparked devastating blazes across the region remains, as of Wednesday morning, the second-largest fire in California history, with only 55 percent of it successfully contained. The Thomas Fire is not expected to be fully contained until January 2018 and is on track to become the largest fire in California history.

The Thomas Fire scorched as of Tuesday night—about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers), or 19 times the size of Manhattan.

54 thoughts on “Flu and Fires, Big and Small

  1. Hi Alys, glad to see you and your family are okay. I had this happen with a space heater I had in my bedroom. Luckily it didn’t progress as far as yours did but I did smell something suspicious and when I unplugged the heater the plug was deformed and the outlet was black. Not a good sign.

    The electrician I had out to fix the plug (he was here for a much bigger project) said he hated those heaters as they caused more problems than they fixed. I was lucky it didn’t progress any farther. He had to replace the outlet. Having an older house doesn’t help.

    Happy holidays. Susan Denison

    >

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    • Susan, thank you for sharing your story. I read the statistics on deaths and destroyed houses due to these things, and I’ll NEVER own one again. I imagine you feel the same way. I’m glad you were unharmed. I love your old house, but agree that the electrical issues can be daunting.

      Happy Holidays, Susan!

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  2. Oh Alys, what a fright you’ve had. And I’m prepared to bet that you’d have handled it in a more dynamic way (to your own satisfaction, at least!) if you hadn’t already been under attack from within. I’m glad the fire wasn’t more serious (although bad enough) and I hope very much that you’ll both be feeling somewhat better. Big hugs xxxxx

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    • Kate, it was a terrible fright. I hope that I would have had the sense to know when it was time to back out of the room and call 911. It all happened so fast (as these things do). I was thinking of you and your flu earlier this year. I read that our own seasonal flu would likely mirror Australia’s and that they missed the mark on the vaccine this year. Have you heard the same?

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      • Yes, we had the same with the flu. I’d actually had the vaccine but it got me anyway. The Husband escaped totally unscathed, having not had the vaccine. Grrrr! It was a terrible flu season here, we had several hundred deaths and many thousands admitted to hospital across the country.

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        • That’s just awful, Kate. It’s heartbreaking that in this day and age the flu remains so deadly. All four of us had the vaccine. Mike and I are recovering, my older son seems to have a milder form and the verdict is out for my 17 year old. He has two more days of final exams, so at the very least, fingers crossed that if he does get the flu, it happens after Friday. My hope is that he remains healthy for the holiday.

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    • Here is the article: http://time.com/5068553/this-years-flu-virus-could-be-worse-than-usual/

      And here is an excerpt: This season the potentially deadly virus is in rare form. Public-health experts are predicting that this year’s flu will be severe for several reasons. Cases are starting up early, which is one indicator of an aggressive virus. Another worry: Australia’s flu season typically augurs that of the U.S., and so far this year, Australia recorded 2½ times as many cases, compared to the same period last year.

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  3. Oh my goodness!! I don’t know what a space heater is but it sounds like it comes with a reputation! I’m so glad Mike knew to flick the power switch. I would have reacted just like you – that slowing down of time is a gift at times of crisis I think, you get extra time to think and act – even if nothing much comes of it. 🙂 That was what I call a fortunate occurrence – as you point out it wasn’t fatal, you didn’t lose too much except your equilibrium and you now have gotten rid of a dangerous heater and will have a working fire extinguisher to hand. Ready for anything!! I’m sorry to hear about the fires continuing to ravage your state despite the fact that it is now almost mid winter. It is beyond my tiny brain to appreciate the size of them – 19 times the size of Manhattan!! That’s big!! I do hope you are recovering from your illness and will soon be back on top – I was just informing the powers that be that really, we don’t need all this extra crisis at this time of the year! And yes, you are so right. This too shall indeed pass. Well done 🙂 Big hugs, much love and strength and warmth xoxo

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    • Pauline, I’m rounding back today to pick up comments I missed while recovering from the flu and celebrating the holidays. It’s nice reading your comments. I agree that the slowing down of time is a gift.

      We’re finally getting rain this week. It started early this morning and should continue for a few days. I’m so grateful some wet weather is finally here.

      Has your weather cooled down to a more seasonal normal? I hope it’s been more bearable, most especially for D and her “hot” boot. xo

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  4. OH Alys!! I am glad to hear that you and your family and your home are OK. I am so scared of fire. Glad to know you are on the road to recovery too. It has been a rough year all around the world, floods and fires and things known and unknown but as you noted this will pass and a new year lies ahead for all of us. It wasn’t as scary as a fire or as yucky as being ill but I also had to canx on a party recently. I was even dressed to go, except for jewelry and shoes. I had some time and I had missed lunch so I was looking over some leftovers in the fridge to munch on before heading to the party. The flank steak that I had marinated and slow-cooked for taco meat a little over a week before was not so nice now and while I normally am sooooo very careful about our dispoal system (we have public sewer but use a “pump and grind” system that is ultra sensitive) I put it down the disposal. Immediately things backed up. I decided I could just use my little baby plunger to clear the problem but this ony served to spew greasy water and bits of meat around the counter and the sink area. Now I found I was getting upset, angry, weepy, frustrated and in a hurry still I thought to myself (because the hubby is out of town of course), “I am confident and competent, I do not need a male person to fix this for me!!! I can just undo the pipes under the sink, release the clog, put it all back together, change my now soaking wet clothes, and still make the party.” I’m sure by now you have guessed that things went from bad to worse and I ended up calling a plumber. Three days and $300 later my kitchen sink was back to normal. YAY!! Some days all we can do is shake our heads,, count our blessings and carry on. Take care of yourself and your family.

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    • Oh Amy, what a story! I’m so sorry you soaked your outfit, missed the party, had to hire a plumber and then deal with the mess, and on your own, no less. I admire your go-to attitude. I wish girls of our generation had been taught many of the useful things the boys learned. Mike has mastery over simple plumbing, electrical, irrigation, carpentry and the like. My dad died when I was nine and I have sisters so there was no-one there to teach me.

      Here’s to a better and brighter year ahead. xo

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  5. I’m so glad you and your family are O.K. now Alys and that the damage to your home was minimal. I hope you all recover from the flu in time to enjoy Christmas – I have lost all my taste buds at the moment due to a heavy cold so I’m desperate to get them back so I can enjoy all the festive treats. Have a lovely time together. xx

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    • Thank you! We’re all back to good health, Christmas is packed up for another year and I’m back to Weight Watchers. How is your dry January going so far? Have you managed to rid yourself of the cold? We’re enjoying our first rainstorm of the season, a warm, gentle rain so far. I love it.

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  6. The run-up to Christmas is never easy but you’ve had more than your fair share of trials. I hope you’re recovered and that your Christmas is a happy one for all the family (let’s all count our blessings).
    PS Is that snowflakes falling down your blog, or sparks from the fire or just my eyes going wrong!?

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Marianna. Those snowflakes fall on WordPress blogs in December, but i believe its a feature you can turn on or off. I just love it. You can also change the direction of the snow right to left by moving your cursor. You’ll have to tuck that away for next year.

      Happy new year!

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  7. Oh my, what a frightening experience for you! As if you haven’t had enough of fire in your region – over 400sq miles? That’s crazy. Sounds like ‘mum’s instinct’ kicked in and I love the way you describe time slowing down giving you time to think rationally. I act the same in a crisis and your description is spot on. I don’t know exactly what a space heater is, but surely they should be banned if they have previous history of failing like this. We don’t even have a fire extinguisher in the house – but I’m going to get one now! I hope you recover from this nightmare and your illness soon. Happy Christmas!

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    • Hello Sheila! Another name for space heater is portable heater. Does that ring any bells? I think they go under different names in different parts of the world. In essence, it’s a small, ceramic heater the plugs into a wall outlet and warms a small area, like a workshop or near a desk. Never again though.

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  8. I’m always dubious about US two-pin plugs. Here in the UK we have three-pin plugs, with an earth and a fuse; in theory the fuse goes before the plug starts to melt. But even without these, I’m shocked that the fuse in the circuit for the socket didn’t trip before you got to the fire stage. I’m so relieved that everybody is ok. You might consider a fire blanket as well as an extinguisher – better than a cushion for smothering fires!
    It sounds like you are on the mend from your flu, so hopefully you will be ok to enjoy the rest of the festive season. Let’s hope it’s a little less exciting than it has been so far.

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    • Jan, you bring up many good points. Many of our appliances are three-pronged, but not all of them. They should be! The space heater did not have a ground! It seems absurd now that I’m looking back on it.

      I’ve never heard of a fire blanket, but I’m off to research that and to find out where I can get one in the area. I could certainly manage that quicker than an extinguisher (though by the way we have since purchased two of them).

      The flu is history. I hope you’re in good health and that you can avoid the seasonal crud.

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  9. I think you do right to stop using space heaters. I am a fire warden at work and have learned that we are not allowed to have them except for exceptional circumstances (after they’ve been checked).

    Anyway, I am glad you are okay, apart from the flu, which hopefully will be gone before Christmas.

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  10. Wow, what an eventful week! I’m so sorry you’ve been ill. My husband and I have both been battling colds for about 4 weeks – but other than a couple of days, we’ve been able to function pretty well. Flu is the worst! And your fire! How terrifying! Glad it was easily contained. I’ve been following the devastating fires in California – so much disaster in one year. Let’s hope 2018 is kinder to California and to you.

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    • I hope 2018 is kinder to us all. Have you finally rid yourselves of those colds? You’re out hiking, which is probably a wonderful thing. All that fresh air and exercise are good for your heart and your soul.

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  11. Add this to the rough year you’ve already had! Jeez–nothing scares me more than fire so I have been avoiding video of the wildfires and your home fire story makes me twitch. That is so terrifying and I am SO glad the outcome was not so bad. I haven’t had the flu in years and it was the sickest I think I’ve ever felt (that tells you how lucky I’ve been in the health department). I hope you all rebound for the holidays!

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  12. Fire is terrifying; I’m glad everyone was ok. We do have extinguishers but this is a good reminder to do a refresher on how to use it! My sister’s kitchen was ruined by fire so I can’t stress how important is is for everyone to have an extinguisher; thankfully no one was hurt (except my brother-in-law’s ego who was cooking at the time).

    I wish you both a speedy recovery; it’s no fun being sick, but especially around the holidays. Merry Christmas 🙂

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    • Sara, what a terrible experience for your sister (and BIL). This was one of those wake up calls. We now have two working fire extinguishers. I’ve shown the boys where they are and instructed them on how to use it. I’m hoping this is the insurance that you buy and never use.

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  13. What a terrible scare, Alys! But hats off to you all for keeping clear heads and working together as a team to get the fire under control. What a relief that everyone is OK. Though your subsequent flu sounds downright miserable — and what rotten timing! I do hope you’ll be on the mend quickly so you can enjoy the Christmas-day festivities. Your closing update on the big fire was a sobering reminder to be grateful for what we have (however imperfect our holiday may be). A big hug to you, and my warmest wishes for a beautiful Christmas. xx

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  14. Thank goodness your son was not hurt and there was no serious damage. And I hope you and your husband are feeling better after the flu as well. Dear Alys, have a restful and peaceful Christmas with your family – warm hugs!

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  15. Fires, floods, flu! You are done with the bad news for a long time. Electrical fires are the worst to deal with. I know what you are talking about when you see this kind of thing happening. Remember the back porch. My son had the extinguisher next to his bed and had that fire out before I got the hose down from the hill. He moved so fast after I woke him, he was a blur. I didn’t know what to do other than wake him either. Time does stand still. You have my deepest sympathy on the flu. I’ve been very lucky and feel for anyone that gets it. My friend and her little one came by today so I had my pickled garlic just in case. You know kids are like germ factories. I heard last night it was a homeless person trying to keep warm that started that fire. Who knows though. Your winds just won’t abate this year. I hope you are all feeling better soon and yes, life goes on. You will have many opportunities to be of service yet. Get well enough to enjoy the holiday with your family. Wishing you well from a distance. 🙂 Giant hugs and well wishes to all. Loved your Tessa card. 😉

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    • Hello Marlene. I’m rounding back to the comments I missed due to the holidays, the flu and a fair amount of goofing off. 😉 I remember well your deck fire. Fires move fast and they’re quiet until they really get going. It’s been one of my worst fears. The good news is that we now have two, fully-charged, fire extinguishers. I feel like such a grown up!

      I hope you continue to avoid the seasonal flu. From what I’m reading, it’s already been a doozy.

      Love and hugs.

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      • I like the goofing off part. 😉 I had my daughter give me a lesson a couple of weeks ago on how to use the fire extinguishers. It’s great to have them but if you don’t know how to use them, what good will they be. ;/ I hope I continue to avoid the flu as well. 😉 Hope you get some time to breathe. Hugs and love, M

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  16. That is scary. Your story made me realize to never get a space heater. They should be banned. I am so glad you shared your story with us and I am glad you acted quickly. Have a wonderful holiday and a happy new year.

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    • Susan, I’m surprised they still market these heaters as they seem to cause no end of trouble. I’ll not own one again, that is for sure, but I do now own two working fire extinguishers. I hope you had a good holiday.

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  17. What a nightmare time you have been having – I hope you are feeling a bit better now. We had a similar socket / plug fire once – it is so hard to think what to do as you cannot use water on these kind of fires and they are quite frightening. We also killed the power – but it took us a few seconds to work this one out!
    What a shame you missed the party and card making – have a wonderful Christmas and a speedy recovery.

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  18. oh Alys!! that’s so scary! I’m glad Mac’s ok and didn’t burn his fingers. It’s so hard to remain calm when you see fire. Please do replace your extinguisher ASAP. We have several and not the tiny ones, big full force extinguishers. I’d recommend getting one that’s refillable and have them checked and maintained every 3 years is best. We are diligent on this due to our days in the country. The nearest fire dept was volunteer and 22 miles away. I’m with you on the space heaters. OMGosh, those drapes could have gone up like a roman candle. It’s unsettling isn’t it?

    Hang in there and recover from this crazy national flue. We all need to get healthy for our trip! xo K

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    • Thank you for your wise words and counsel. I will purchase two extinguishers, one for the kitchen and one for the back of the house. Great advice. And how smart of you to have them on hand at the lake. That made good sense. I hope you never had to use them.

      Hugs!

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  19. So scary… and a very important cautionary tale! Your family worked like a real team during this emergency, Alys! I held my breath as I read your powerful words. You should feel very proud of your efforts. I must thank you for sharing this timely tale! Winter days in the Midwest make my studio downstairs very chilly. I had been thinking that perhaps a space heater would allow more creative time downstairs. Now I know better! I promise to heed your wise words, Alys! Huge thanks!!

    Hope that your family is feeling healthy again and that you made some fun memories together during the holidays! Peace ♥ Joy ♥ Happiness in the New Year!

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    • I’m glad this post was timely, Dawn. I wonder if there is a way to insulate your space to make it more comfortable. Is it a basement? I know they can be damp, too. A friend of mine lives in a drafty house without much insulation and she used foam squares to line a wall, then hung a tapestry over them to hide it. The two layers insulate the space. Another thought is to put foam squares or a wool carpet liner under an area rug to keep the cold coming up through the floor. Many many years ago I worked for a theater company costume shop that at the time used part of an old train repair building. It was so cold we could hardly move our fingers. The manager finally figured out a way to partially close one of the hinged windows into the factory. Peace, joy and happiness to you, too.

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      • Such good ideas, Alys! I don’t mind wearing a jacket in the midst of winter in my studio space in our unfinished basement. This winter it has been extra cold. Next week, more seasonable weather will arrive, so it will be possible to spend fun times in my studio. On the bright side, it’s a cool, comfortable place to create during hot summer days!
        Warm hugs! 💗

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