Will was offshore, working. The two teenagers were at school. Stacey and Dusti taking baby Milly Christmas shopping. No one was home. No one harmed. (I can't even think the alternative.)
About the same time, in tears and panic, terrified of what she would find, Stacey called us. She turned to go home but didn't want to be there without us. Of course, we raced over. When we arrived the smoke had begun billowing from the roof. In only a few minutes there were flames. I was on the phone with Will telling him things would be okay, and we were there to help.
Then I saw those terrifying orange flames and, on the verge of tears, told him to come home, now, to take care of his family. By the time he arrived via helicopter and truck, the fire had been extinguished, but everything lost.
Older homes in Louisiana (1960 and earlier) were often built of cypress planks. There was plenty of cypress available in the southern half of the state, it's a hardwood that lasts a century or more, and it's beautiful.
Will and Stacey's home was hand built by a young couple who raised their family then retired. After the husband died, Mrs. B decided that another family would bring life back to the house. She kept in touch with Will and Stacey and they remained friends.
Almost every piece of wood on the house was dry, dusty cypress cut and nailed 57 years ago. When Mrs. B got news of the fire she went over to console them and told stories of the house from its very beginning--she cut the wood, her husband walked on the rafters and terrified her, how they slowly added to the house over the years, and so on. How sweet is that? She must have been aching to see her family home reduced to flames but focused her concern on the people who were losing it.
It took hours for the fire to do its damage. Houses of the era often had cross beams meant to slow down a fire as it travels up a wall. This fire began in the attic and did the fastest damage there, dropped down onto the ceiling, which eventually caved onto the floor and walls in the center of the house.
Meanwhile, volunteer firefighters with as many as 10 trucks did all they could. They fought the flames from one side while it roared to the other. More trucks arrived, so they cut a hole in the roof and used additional hoses to spray into the attic from the back of the L-shaped home, but there simply was not possible to fight from all sides.
A draft, a shift in the wind, a bundle of something stored in the fire's path, so many variables can affect the route of the fire that it's difficult to know what to do, where to do it, and what to do it with.
Volunteers train often and hard, but in rural places we know that the odds of saving a building are not good. Volunteers may be unable to come. Others may be not trained for the type of fire that is raging. (Ours was an electrical fire.) The gas, electric and water companies must all have men on site to assist in turning off utilities which can make situations even more dangerous. One doesn't realize the complexities of what has to be done or the safety protocols set in place until they affect your life and home.
Eventually they did extinguish the flames, then the smoking embers on the inside walls, and the "hot spots" that are most persistent. At last, the exhausted men and women were able to remove their heavy coats and boots and return home. Will had arrived and tried to assess the damage, but the cyanide gases inside the house prevented him from even looking in the windows.
The only thing left to do was to find a place to take a bath and try to rest for the night. In the morning they returned, unwilling to accept the devastation. But while they suffered a loss which breaks our hearts but is nothing compared to what could have been.
They decided to come here for a day or two to regroup and shake off the nervous shock. Once they talked it over as a family, they decided to stay until after the holidays. So everything in my world is upside down and crazy. Quilting and blogging will be put aside so that I can help with the many, many details of finding a way back to living a normal life. But we are together and safe and that is all that matters.