Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Adventures in Holidays: That Night We Almost Burned our House Down Before A Dinner Party

Clark wasn't with us last night, but had he been - he'd have felt right at home.
Otherwise known as: how not to start a dinner party.

So my parents have these great friends that they have had since forever; lovely people with a lovely family that they don't get to see that often and, needless to say, I haven't seen them in ages.  So we arranged a nice holiday dinner to catch up and make merry, as you do during this time of year.

What ensued was like a deleted scene straight out of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Our guests were scheduled to arrive at 5:30 so they could see Isla before bed.  Right before they arrived my mom decided to start a fire in the sitting room fireplace, you know - for ambience.  While we use the fireplace in the family room daily, this was the first time this season we were using the one off the kitchen.  My wonderful mother, in the midst of the hubbub of setting the table, putting finishing touches on the dinner and getting ready for our friends, forgot to open the flue, which is kind of a big deal when you start a wood burning fire in a fireplace.   

Needless to say, the house filled with thick smoke in under five minutes.  Alarms began to sound and once we couldn't stop those, more - even louder - alarms began to sound.  My mom started running around frantically trying to opening windows while fanning the smoke with a dish towel (an utterly futile effort) exclaiming "What do we do!?!?!"  I grabbed Isla who naturally began to cry seeing all the mayhem and because I didn't exactly know what to do as this isn't exactly my house, I said, "First you need to open that flue!" (she did) followed by "Do you know how to turn the alarms off?" (She did not).  We called my dad who was on his way home from work.  No answer.  We continued to open windows and - in general - run around like chickens with our heads cut off while being more or less ineffective at resolving anything.  I finally got Isla calmed and even enthralled with all the excitement around and began making phone calls to the alarm company to call off the dogs...but it was too late.  

Our lovely dinner guests arrived at our front door (which was wide open in an effort to dissipate the smoke) in the midst of this chaos and quickly sprung to action fanning smoke and opening doors before they even got their coats off.  Not five minutes later two blaring, flashing fire trucks arrived.  Neighbors curiously took to the streets to see what the ruckus was about as five decked-out fire-folk politely marched into the house.  "Hi there!" I said, "Happy holidays! Forgot to open the flue! Sorry to bother!" I continued as each one passed by.  Isla, in the meantime, kept chirping "Fire! Fire!" and smiling as they passed.  The uniformed men immediately sprung to action by opening up the house, checking for carbon monoxide and trying (unsuccessfully) to turn off the alarms. 

After about thirty minutes, the smoke finally dissipated enough for the frantic alarms to subside, the house was given the all-clear and deemed "safe" and the firemen left with a tip of their hats.  Wine was served.  

At least we didn't burn dinner.

What's your favorite National Lampoon's worthy holiday moment?  Surely we can't be the only ones?


Derek Wright said...

You couldn't hear a dump truck go through a nitroglycerin plant.

Mark and Cindy - s/v Cream Puff said...

Warning: Animals were in fact harmed in this antic.

Hi Brittney,

We had a similar experience with the chimney flue but it took a horrid turn. We had a good flame going when we remembered to open the flue. Upon doing so, birds started to drop into the fire. A flock of Chimney Swifts had nested in our chimney. The smoke caused them to become disoriented and we could hear them banging into the sides of the chimney stack. Of course, the fire/smoke alarms were going at this point. Our house started to fill with smoke partly due the nests clogging the chimney and partly because of the smoke from the closed flue. Then, the birds started to fall down. Those that didn’t immediately burn and die began to fly around the room. They banged into the walls and left soot outlines wherever they hit. Then, they began to fly into the windows thinking it was a hole in the wall and a way out. They broke their necks and fell to the floor in a puff of soot. The dog picked up one of the dead birds and began to shake it until it bled. It was horrible. More and more started to fall down the chimney and soot was everywhere. We had no choice but to close the screens of the fire place. The putrid smell was terrible.

We eventually retrieved a fire extinguisher from the kitchen to put out the fire. But, the force of the extinguisher blew more soot and hot embers everywhere. But, at least the fire was out allowing us to close the flue. We could hear birds dropping onto the closed flue. The smoldering smoke and extinguisher fumes filled the room making it too thick to breathe. The firemen arrived. They made us leave. They entered the house with breathing apparatus and opened doors and windows. Our dog ran off down the street. We saw some birds fly out of the windows. The firemen set up huge fans to help air out the house and minimize the smoke damage. A neighbor brought our dog back as we sat on the curb wondering how the heck it all got so out of control so quickly.

It took months to repair the damage. We had to get a specialized cleaning service for the house to remove soot stains. They did a fabulous job of getting the smoke smell out of the upholstery furniture. We had to repaint the interior. It took a chimney sweep all day to remove the caucuses and nests from inside the chimney. He installed a mesh over the chimney cap to prevent any birds that got out from returning. I seriously think those managing to escape would not want to come back. The chimney sweep thought otherwise.


Mark and Cindy
s/v Cream Puff

JD, Jen and Ruby said...

Ha! That's nerve - wracking, yet quite funny... after the fact. I think it's awesome how you can turn a child's natural tendency to freak out into the happy little helper with the adjustment of your own temperament. Great job! I hope to hone this skill with our little Ruby.
I don't have a Griswold holiday story but your post does remind me of something that just happened to us when we were 'delivering' our delivery captain to the airport after he sailed our new boat to us from Marina Del Rey. The full story is too long for this comment but it will be up on our (new) blog soon.

Anyway, after a somewhat hectic trip north with our boat, (head issues got the good captain a bit...icky :( ), we were rushing against the clock so that he could catch a flight to his very own boat christening. We got stuck in traffic in downtown SF and our fancy Ford van that we had just been bragging about began to smoke from under the hood. The temp gauge was maxed out on HOT HOT HOT! Que the beads of sweat welling up on my forehead. Talk about embarrassing. Not only did the boat I just bought give him and his crew trouble, but now we're broke down on the side of the road, in the Tenderloin. Not the best part of San Francisco. Uhg!

Well, we got it all worked out. One crew member jumped on nearby public transit toward her destination and we ordered up an airport shuttle from the hotel we were parked in front of. He made to his party, we spent our first night in the Bay on our new sailboat and we've all had some good laughs since.

Thanks for sharing your story Brittany. Glad to hear you're adjusting to life on dirt. We're excited to begin our life on the water! How is Scott handling the transition?

Carry On,
s/v Gone Tomorrow

Dave said...

Okay, my story of the incinerated turkey on the grill and the blender that went wild the same day pales in comparison. I stand down.
Pleased everyone is safe.
PS. Aren't fireplaces wonderful?

MaryJo Boyle said...

A great story, one you'll remember for many years. So glad it all turned out all right. Bet there was no lack of conversation over that dinner!!! =0)

Lauren said...

That's a great story, although I hope that I never have a similar one! :)

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