I’d tidied my bedroom, cleaned my bathroom, finished my Christmas shopping, and my parents were putting away the big shop downstairs. I was all ready for the 2020 festive fun, sitting on my bed, watching Lost, and eating chocolate.
The doorbell went, which always gets the dog going, so I sprang up to catch him.
It was our next-door neighbour.
‘I’m really sorry to bother you, but I think your garage is on fire.’
Fair reason to bother us really.
My Dad went outside, and I think I followed him. I don’t really remember. But it looked like there was black smoke escaping from the cracks in the doors. I said to my mum that it was our neighbour, and that the garage was on fire.
I’m not sure she really believed it. I didn’t either. But she called the fire brigade.
The garage is a detached building. Luckily. It doesn’t have any cars in, but a whole load of our stuff. Particularly mine, because of moving back here recently.
My neighbour said to me, ‘You probably want to move your car, Lucy’, as it was parked with the bonnet right up against the garage door. I hadn’t even thought about it, and the fire didn’t seem that bad so I was like ‘Oh well ‘spose I should. Just in case.’
I shut the dog in my mum’s office so that he was out of the way, grabbed my keys, and walked barefoot across the gravel driveway to my car. I was only wearing a t-shirt and trackie bottoms, and it was absolutely pissing it down. But I didn’t even notice. Not sure I’ve ever driven barefoot before though.
The car stank of smoke. I reversed it off the drive and just in front of the house. By that point, we could see that there was a proper blaze in the garage. It was on the back wall, just by where the freezer and all the electrics are. The rain had obviously dripped through and sparked something. I thought that maybe we could use the garden hose, or some buckets of water, to try and save our stuff which was mostly on the other side of the building.
I was thinking about it as I ran upstairs to grab my phone. Thought I’d grab a couple of snaps first, like for insurance and stuff. As I picked up my phone, I texted my brother and sister-in-law.
‘The garage is on fire. Keep you posted.’
Not sure why I did that. Crazy how your brain just does mad things in a crisis.
By the time I got back downstairs, the flames had engulfed the garage, and were licking out of the double doors at the front.
It had taken literally one minute to take the whole building.
I was filming, and taking photos (no hope of putting it out now), when someone told me to move my car even further away. I was still barefoot, and soaking wet in my t-shirt.
My parents were moving their cars too. I realised we were getting ready for the fire to take the house.
As I got out of my car, my little puppy baby appeared at the front door. He was so happy and chilled. He just wanted to see what all the fuss was. I picked him up, and he perched quite happily in the crook of my left arm, the way that he often does. He had got out of my mum’s office because she had gone in there to get her laptop, her tablet, and the document folder that has all their important documents in. We were evacuating the house.
The street was full of our neighbours now. One of them kept asking me how it had started. I kept saying that I didn’t know.
The roof fell in, and the flames continued to climb. They were touching the roof of our house now.
The fire brigade arrived 8 minutes after our neighbour noticed the blaze. It seemed like an absolute eternity. It was long enough to bring down the whole building. The space on the driveway where my car had been was full of rubble now. If I’d left it, it would have exploded.
I told them that I lived there, and stupidly pointed out the fire. Like they could miss it.
‘Is that an electricity substation behind it?’, they asked.
Shit. Yes, it is.
I hadn’t even considered that.
My mum bought me a coat and some shoes. I insisted that I was fine, but she told me to think of my puppy, and that he needed to be warm zipped inside my coat. I bundled him in, and slipped my feet in my shoes. They were covered in stones from the tarmac, and all wet and slimy.
The fire fighters were here now, and the blaze was going down. We could breathe easy. The house was going to be OK. I walked over to my next-door neighbour, and thanked him so sincerely. He saved our house. He maybe even saved our lives.
If he hadn’t noticed, how long before someone else did?
What if it had happened in the middle of the night?
These are all the things I keep thinking.
I was talking to my brother on the phone when another neighbour arrived and said ‘Lucy, come to ours’. Her dog and my dog are bez pals. I didn’t even think twice about it. I know that Covid is a thing, but that didn’t seem to matter. I just wanted to get my dog warm and safe. She wrapped her arm around me, and walked me down the street to hers. As soon as I got inside, she gave me a disposable face mask. My glasses steamed up instantly.
I stayed there for about an hour probably, and it was all a bit of a blur. Even more so because I couldn’t see properly. I just kept saying things like,
‘Oh my God my mum’s bike’
‘I wonder if they put the turkey in there?’
‘Shit. All the drinks were in there!’
‘I found my degree in there last week – glad I got that out of there.’
She is an absolutely lovely woman. I get along with her really well, and the whole time our dogs were just going mental, having the best play date ever, completely oblivious. She lives with her husband and her two sons who are in their late teens/early twenties. They’re so down to earth, so they were just the best people to spend that time with. And it was so reassuring to see Alfie (my dog) wagging his tail, chasing balls, and just having the best time ever.
One of her sons said that he had sped across town, because he could see it from miles away and knew that it was our street. He said that he felt horrible when he came round the corner, because when he saw the garage, he was relieved. He was just glad that it wasn’t a house. I whole heartedly agreed with him.
Eventually, my Dad came over to fill me in. During the fire, he had kept saying over and over again ‘It’s only a garage’. He said that my mum was on the phone to emergency electricians, because half the house had lost power. It was really weird though, cuz the kettle worked, but the kitchen lights didn’t. Half the things were on, half were off. It was dead odd.
I walked back down the road with him, and saw the shell of the garage. The firemen were putting out the remains. One of them had a hose pouring water in to my safe. Even if things weren’t burned, they were fucked from the water. I could see my cross trainer, my mum’s bike, my dad’s golf clubs, bottles of wine, all of them warped and charred.
I took my shoes off just inside the door, but the floor was all wet, as had been the inside of my shoes, so I proper stacked it on the floor. I have a huge bruise on my knee, but luckily that’s the only single injury to come out of the fire.
The electrician arrived quickly, and managed to get the house back on. My mum was constantly on the phone to insurance people etc. The fire brigade cordoned off the wreckage, and left to go and sort out the local flooding.
There was nothing more we could do. Everything was done. It was nearly 8PM by now. Somehow four hours had passed. My Dad decided to do a scaled down version of our dinner. He’d planned a really fancy two course fish thing, but we all agreed that we weren’t in the mood.
As well as belongings, we’d lost all our veg and all our drink in the fire – just two days before Christmas. The big shop had been delivered at 3:30pm, and the fire started 15 minutes later. Talk about bad timing. Luckily the turkey had fitted in the fridge. Normally it doesn’t, so it goes in a cool box in the garage. But we were left without any soft drinks, or any booze, and everyone had been panic buying because the new strain of Covid had closed the borders, so my mum did a quick run to the Co-op to get drinks and veg.
I don’t really remember much of the rest of the evening. Everything went by so quickly. But I know that at midnight my mum and I were still sitting in the living room with the dog, writing a shopping list for the next day (Christmas Eve).
The next day, visitor after visitor came by. We were inundated with offers of veg and drinks. Some bought flowers for us. Everyone was so kind.
My mum spent all day on the phone to insurers, and making lists, while my Dad did a couple of food/drink shops. I went to the pet shop, because the dog food got burned away in the fire.
The building is hella unstable. There are huge cracks in the walls that are still standing. My Dad has a veg patch and greenhouse round the other side, but even 5 days later we haven’t been able to check on it. The wreckage is just so dangerous. It fucking stinks too. Like burnt rubber and chemicals.
Today, our house phone is ‘Golf donations 101’ because my Dad put out an e-mail to his fellow golfing seniors asking for any spare stuff. He lost all his clubs, his trolley, his waterproofs, and his shoes. We had six (yes, six) bikes in there, a huge claret collection, all our childhood Lego, and then there’s my stuff…
From what I can remember, I lost… boardgames, handbags, kitchenware (including toaster, slow cooker etc), furniture (including this gorgeous antique marble-esque coffee table), my cross trainer, my bike, my framed photographs and artwork, books and DVDs, souvenirs from my trip around Europe, my filing cabinet, my old laptops/phones/cameras, my very expensive beer collection… I’m sure there’s lots lots more. I hadn’t properly looked through it all.
It’s ironic, because I’d just finished sorting through my stuff that’s in the spare bedroom and my brother’s room. Next stop was the garage.
Yes, the insurance will pay out, and I can replace a lot of things. But it can’t replace the memories.
I’m so thankful that we’re all OK, but really sad about the things that we have lost. It also really does a number on you, having that amount of adrenaline running through your body. I have zero appetite, and can’t sleep. It reminds me a bit of how I felt for the days after I was in an earthquake in Turkey, and everyone was running around terrified in their pjs trying to escape a tsunami (yes, that’s a real story).
The thing that scares me most is the guttering on the house. Some of it is warped and melted. It’s only a couple of years ago that my parents got the facing re-done so that it was no longer dark wood, but white plastic instead. If it had still been wood, it would have gone up.
At first, I wanted to talk to people about it, but now I just find myself really overwhelmed. I can’t even reply to anyone. I’m exhausted.
So, until they come to demolish the wreckage, I’m just going to be kind to myself and try and process it all.
What an absolutely shite ending to a shite year.