Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Final Farewell

It was really important to me to be home when our trucks were removed and taken away.  I'm not sure why but I think it had something to do with not really being ready to move on to a new vehicle. 

For most people, when you buy a new car its because you have used your old one up - it's worn out, broken down, and you're ready.  Or, it doesn't suit your needs any more - again, you're ready for something else.  That wasn't true with either of our trucks.  So, it felt like something was taken away from us when we weren't ready to give them up. 

We didn't really know when the salvage company would show up to haul them away so I ran home on my lunch hoping that they would come while I was there.  As luck would have it, the guy was there with our trucks already loaded on a flatbed.  He was just cleaning up the mess that was made from dragging them up there. 

So I asked him if they take scrapmetal too - I had a few things left over from the demolition that we needed to get rid of.  He said no and explained that the trucks were going to auction.

To auction??

Who in their right mind would want these things?  There is nothing left of them and they are full of broken glass, melted plastic, and metal! 

The guy then explained that people will pay big bucks for these trucks, especially Mike's new F-150.  They still had VIN numbers and titles - and people buy them to pull the VIN off them and put it on a stolen vehicle.  Viola!  They have a clean title!

I stood there in shock.  People really do this?  I'm actually doing business with someone that specializes in this sort of thing?

I was dumbfounded.  I still am in shock about our misfortune leading to a shady character's gain.    

The demolition

 We hadn't planned to demo the garage ourselves.  We always thought that we would have our contactor take care of it. 

The day after the fire investigation, we started getting calls from a salvage company about picking up the remains of our trucks.  It was Friday and they wanted them the following Monday.  I didn't think it was a big deal, I thought  they would just hook them to a winch and drag them out - not worrying about the roof that was resting on them.

It turns out this was not the case.  The salvage company was not equipped to remove any debris.  They had to be completely free of debris in order to remove them.

This put us in a tough spot - how do we get all of that out of there in just a few short days???

With sheer pissed off determinatin, beer, and a few good friends! 

Chad and Jodi quickly volunteered to come down on Saturday and help us get stuff out of there.  I had a roll-off dumpster dropped off on Friday afternoon.  On Saturday, we put on old clothes, bought a couple cases of beer, left the kids to their own devices in the house (four kids ages 5,3 and 2....what could possibly go wrong????) and we got to work!

We few tools - a couple of shovels, a bunch of homer buckets, a few hammers and an ax.  We went all Amish on the what remained of our garage!

Our initial plan was just to get the roof off the trucks and clean up the debris that had fallen in to our neighbor's yard.  That was it.  The roof proved very difficult to remove and break up - so we just started tearing in to things.  Before we knew it, we had taken down a wall - and then the supports that had been put in after the fire - and we hauled stuff out of the garage - we took pictures and wrote down items that we had forgotten to list. 

The work was hard, back breaking and emotional.  But it was therapeutic work too.  We looked for missing belongings, confirmed that some things were indeed in there and lost, and spent a few minutes just looking at our old trucks and the piles of debris that were inside them.  We were able to take out some aggression by swinging sledge hammers, axes and even saws at the debris.  Not only was it a day of work for us, but it was the first giant step in moving on.

The kids did pretty well - they mostly entertained themselves and we only had to holler at them a little bit!  Our nieghbor girl, Julia, came over to watch them for a few hours too - and that helped a lot!!  Madison became our official beer runner.  It wasn't long before she was hollering "Mom, that case that you just bought is almost empty - you guys are drinking it all!!!!!"  We all had to laugh.  We were working hard and nothing goes better with hard work than an ice cold beer!

As the day wore on, we were making real progress.  By dinner time, we had removed everything with the exception of one wall and the two trucks.  The roll off was full with an extimated TEN TONS of debris and we still had a few piles of stuff to throw out.  We were exhausted. 

While we showered up, had dinner, and relaxed a bit on the deck - we marvelled at how much we had accopmlished that day.  We had demo'd far more than we expected to get done.  We felt good about having achieved so much - but we felt even better that we were taking our recovery in to our own hands.

A few days later, Mike's parents came over to help us with that last wall and to load up the last few piles of stuff into a new rolloff dumpster.

The Investigation

When the RFD fired investigator said that the fire originated in the engine of our new F-150, our insurance company tried to get an investigation started. The trouble with this plan was that it was soooo cold during January and so much water was used in attempts to put out the fire that everything was one frozen solid block of ice. They couldn't determine anything in those conditions.
They gave us a choice: Wait and investigate when it warms up or just move on with life.

We chose to wait and investigate. We didn't do this for monetary gain - we stood to gain very little from a product liability lawsuit - we would maybe get our deductibles back as a result. We wanted to investigate further in an effort to earn back the deductibles that our neighbors had to pay to their insurance companies for the damage to their homes. We also wanted to try to determine a cause so that whatever was wrong could be fixed. So nobody else would have to go through all of this.

Waiting was not an easy road. We got to look at the burned out shell of our garage every day. Thankfully they boarded up the front of the garage and covered the whole thing with a tarp - so we didn't have to see the remains of our trucks and other belongings everyday. There were the minor little annoyances too.  Since we have a single car driveway, we were constantly moving vehicles around so whomever got home first could get their car out. We had to scrape windows nearly every day. We didn't have anywhere to store anything - so our bathtub became a tool chest. The dog kennel under the deck and a blue tarp became a place to store the kid's new bikes once the weather warmed up. Our family room has become a catch-all room for the things we would normally store in the garage like Christmas decorations and Cam's old crib.

We also couldn't turn in our final list of items lost - because we couldn't go through the rubble to see if we had forgotten anything. As of right now, we have yet to see a dime from our insurance company for the more than $30,000 in personal belongings that were lost.

The investigation was scheduled for April 7 and it proved to be a nice warm day. We both took the day off from work to be available to the investigators. There were a total of 6 investigators at our house that day. There was the State Farm guy, the independent investigator, the guy from Ford, two guys from Brinx (they manufactured the timers that our trucks were plugged in to) and a guy from the manufacturer of the block heaters that Ford uses. Everyone was from MN and hired by the separate entities except for the guy from Ford. Apparently, they are busy enough with fire investigations to hire their own guy on full time!

They started by questioning Mike and I together as a group. We went through the timeline of events from that day and also went through diagrams of where things were in the garage and where we had items that were plugged in to outlets. Then the investigators opened up the garage.

After three months, old wounds were reopened. It was hard to see the shells of our trucks again and some of our belongings - definetely harder than I was anticipating.

They each walked through the garage on their own and took photographs. They didn't touch anything, just looked. Once everyone had achance to take a look and take photos, they went in as a group and started to rule things out.

Let me tell you - these guys have been around burned down buildings enough to have no fear! They were standing on top of the roof of the garage that was lying on top of our trucks and didn't seem bothered by it in the least! I didn't even like walking within ten feet of what remained, there was no way you would get me to climb up on that pile of rubble!

They spent a lot of time on Mike's truck - as we suspected. I could see them focus on the engine compartment - and then move to the wall where the timer had been plugged in. I could tell they were looking for remains of the timer (and they even found some!)

Not a lot was happening - but we couldn't take our eyes off of it either. We tried to work on a few house projects but little was accomplished.

At some point after lunch I noticed they had moved on to my Explorer. They were REALLY focusing on it. Far more than I expected they would focus on it. As time wore on, I started to wonder what they were discovering.

Around 2pm they called us back out for more questioning. The guy from Ford lead the questioning.
**How long have you had this Explorer? (we bought it new in 2004)
**Had any recalls on it? (only something for the rear diffential fluid, nothing major)
**Had any problems with it? (there was that time it drove itself out of the driveway at daycare and hit a parked car, aside from that it was the best vehicle we have ever owned...)
**Did it have cruise control (yep and we were aware that Ford had issues with cruise and fires - but our truck was never recalled for it)

Then they said that was all and we were allowed to go back in the house. They started wrapping things up a short while later.

Once everyone had left the investigator from State Farm came in to give us the findings. They were not what we were expecting at all.

They had ruled everything out. The block heater in Mike's truck did not cause the fire. The timers did not cause the fire. They couldn't tell if anything else in Mike's truck could have caused it because it was so heavily damaged. They also could not rule out the extension cord that the Explorer had been plugged in to.

What they think happened is that the extension cord on the Explorer arked for some reason. (they said it showed signs of arking - it just looked burned to me, like everything else!) It was strung over the rafters in the garage so that I would see it each morning - it was my reminder so I wouldn't back out of the garage with the truck still plugged in! They think it arked up in the rafters and something caught fire and immediately spread through the roof to the area over Mike's truck - where the roof then collapsed and made it look like the truck was the point of origin.

While this is the theory, the official results of the investigation were inconclusive. It felt like a punch in the gut. We had waited all this time - and the result was nothing like we had expected. It kind of sent us back on the emotional rollercoaster that we rode in the few weeks immediately following the fire. After a few days though, we realized that we couldn't do anything about it. We had tried and that was all that mattered.

Immediately after they left that day, we were cleared to demo the garage. Stay tuned for the demolition process....

Monday, April 25, 2011

Roll On Roll On Rollercoaster

Despite feeling like we are in a time warp for a few months, time continues to march on.  The roller coaster of life doesn't stop and all you can do is hold on and hope for the best!  It is a tough pill to swallow when you don't feel the same anymore. 

So where are we right now?

Physically:  The vehicles have been replaced and things have felt a lot better since we  accomplished that goal.  The garage has been torn down and we are awaiting word on whether or not our cement slab was damaged in the fire.  It looks ok - but we aren't sure if the intense heat will cause it to crumble in the future. Also, it is very stained from soot and it smells terrible. We are hoping that the slab is ok and that we will be able to pressure wash the stains on and most of all, get the smell out so our new garage doesn't smell like a burned down garage.

Emotionally:  Recovering emotionally has had its ups and downs!  It gets a little easier as time goes, especially after we got the old garage torn down a few weeks ago. All of us have dealt with it in our own way.  Madison had some nightmares for a few weeks.  And continues to worry about the house burning down on a daily basis.  Her biggest concern is that Windsor, our little dog, wouldn't get out of the house if it started on fire when we aren't home.  We have seen some improvement in her anxiety about this since the garage was torn down.  Mike had some nightmares and general worry - but they didn't affect him until a few weeks after.  I have fear and worry that continues but is also easing as time goes on.  It is interesting how something like this can affect you.  I never used to worry about plugging my crockpot in or running the dryer while I was gone.  Now I think about what could happen every single time I plug anything in.

I worry about my "stuff."  I worry that something will happen to my car or my house and I'll have to file yet another insurance claim.  For the record, I have paid deductibles on my house and both cars all at once, two times in the past two and a half  years.  I don't think that happens to most people once in a lifetime - let alone twice!  We had hail almost three years ago that caused damage to everything and we paid all three deducitibles.  And then this happens.  I am honestly afraid to even call my insurance company because they must groan every time they see my name on their screen!  Every time I find a letter from State Farm in my mailbox, my heart stops and I wonder if this will be the letter where our rates for through the roof or where they drop us or raise our rates beyond the point of being affordable.

For a long time, I felt a lot of guilt for worrying about my stuff so much. It's just stuff right?  I often wonder if we are simply not meant to have anything but the basic necessities.  Because everything that we worked hard for and bought simply because we wanted it has been taken from us in the past year. 

People told me that I should just be thankful. My home and children are ok.  Mike is ok.  Nobody was hurt. 

After awhile I realized that all of that was complete bull shit.  I realized that until this happens to all the people that were telling me this, they will never understand how you feel, how you are changed.  I pray to God that nobody does understand. 

I am grateful that my husband, children and home are ok.  We were blessed in so many ways on that cold December morning.  That doesn't change the fact that we lost things that were still important to us.  Things we can't get back.  Things that were a part of us and pieces of our life, despite being just "things"

Wedding pictures that I put in temporary storage when I put up the Christmas decorations.
A norwegian wooden bowl that was a wedding gift also in storage while the Christmas decor was up in the house.
The Christmas Village that my Grandma left to me when she passed away. (that wasn't put up this year for fear that I would spend my days keeping Cameron's little hands away from it.)
The baby cradle that was a family heirloom, that both Madison and Cameron slept in.
The bamboo windchime that we bought on our honeymoon in Hawaii.
The cakes in the freezer that I made for Kendall and Sydney.
Madison's new bike.
The kid's life jackets.
Mike's pinewood derby cars.
My bike. (that should would be nice to have right now with these gas prices!)

I could go on and on.  The list is endless.  I'm sure we have forgotten a lot of things too.  We'll never remember all of it. 

At some point along this journey I realized that I shouldn't feel guilty for being sad, angry and scared after all of this.  I don't need to "just think positive."  I actually came across something about Buddhism in all of this. Now, I don't claim to know ANYTHING about Buddhism and while I'm a faithful Christian, I think we can learn a lot from other religions too. Apparently Buddha teaches that it is ok to grieve losses - it doesn't matter that you should feel grateful for everything else - it's still a loss and if you don't allow yourself to feel the loss, the negative energy will never leave. Covering it up with "positive thinking" only traps it.

That made a lot of sense to me - So many other things also focus on energy and the pathways out of our body - like acupuncture. I have to believe that energy and the channels it uses are a part of us and a part of the world around us. So I have just let myself feel sad, angry, scared…and you know what? It DOES get easier and eventually you start to feel better. It might take a few days, a week, or longer.  It will happen! Some days now I feel fine and I worry less about the dryer or the crockpot burning my house down - other days I'm afraid to plug anything in because of this new fear that I have. The faintest smell of smoke is enough to send me on a hunt for something that is burning. I am just allowing myself to feel that fear and as time goes on you notice it less and less.

So. This is a really long drawn out way of saying that things are getting easier.  Each day presents a new challenge.  Some big, some small.  The small challenges seem to be the ones that knock us down right now.  Like converting our jacuzzi tub to a temporary tool chest for the few tools that we have accumulated.  (Gee, a nice warm bath sure would be nice...)  The simple bumps in the road, like an unexpected flat tire, make you feel like you just keep getting kicked when you're down.  I imagine that eventually those things won't affect so much and life will get back to "normal."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mike's New-New truck

As you might recall, the cause of our fire was something in our new truck.  We hope to know what exactly it was in the next few weeks. 

The old-new truck was a 2010 Ford F-150 in a gorgeous metallic candy apple red.  We didn't share our new purchase with the world because it just didn't feel right during a time when so many people are struggling. 

We bought the truck two days before the hailstorm hit our camper last summer and we have only one picture of it!

Mike wanted this truck for a long  time.  He was really enjoying it and we were all glad that we had decided to buy it.

Who would have ever thought that a brand new truck would start your garage on fire? 

After the fire, Mike knew he wanted another truck but he wasn't sure if he wanted another Ford. Especially when the day after our fire Ford recalled 2011 F-150's for...wait for it....fires. 

After looking around he knew that he it had to be another Ford.  He just didn't like the other trucks as much.  So, we bought a brand new 2011 F-150.  There are a few changes on this one from the 2010 that Mike really likes - and he loves having Sync and Sirous Satellite Radio built right in!

So far, Mike actually likes the new-new truck better than the old-new truck.  They made some improvements with the 2011 that weren't on the 2010 and he is very pleased with it!

Monday, February 07, 2011

My New Car!

Sadly - my Explorer did not survive the fire.  I'm STILL bummed about that!  I planned to drive that thing until the doors fell off.  They burned off, does that count? 

For weeks I have wondered why I was so bummed about losing that Explorer.  I mean, it was JUST a vehicle.  A mode of transportation.  A tool.  A gas guzzler.  But I think I've figured out why I am so sad about the loss.  Our cars don't define us - but what we do with them does. 

1.  It was paid for. 'nuff said!
2.  It was the first new vehicle that Mike and I bought together.
3.  We brought both of our babies home from the hospital in that Explorer.
4.  We spent a stormy night of camping in it with Chad and Jodi.  We played cards in the back and we still laugh about that night.
5.  It has taken on us on many adventures - from biking to hiking to boating.
6.  It still looked new despite being a 2004 our despite our bad luck!
7.  There are a few funny stories too - like the time I threw it into park, turned it off and ran into daycare  with the keys still in it.  Turns out, it wasn't quite in park and rolled out of the driveway an in to a parked car!  In my defense, there was a malfunction in the steering column that made me think it was in park when it really wasn't! 
8.  Or the time Mike was backing up a really small trailer.  The trailer jackknifed, but he couldn't see it to know it had until he crunched in the rear quarter panel!
9.  Or the not so fun time - when golf ball and baseball sized hail hit Rochester about two and a half years ago.  Madison and I sat in the Explorer along Highway 14 and cried as our beloved truck was pelted with the hail.  We were afraid the windows would break, but the glass held and we were safe.
10.  Mike called it the Canyonero.  *Simpson's fans will get this one!

So - it almost feels like this is closing one chapter on our life and starting another when we weren't quite ready to say goodbye. We made a lot of memories with that SUV and I will be very sad on the day they pull it out of our burned out garage and haul it away.  You can bet I will be there to bid it a final goodbye.

But, like Kid Rock says, you have to Roll On, Roll On Roller coaster.  So, we had to move on to new things!  I really did not want another car - its tough going back after driving an SUV!  The threat of $5 per gallon gas forced me to be a little more fuel conscious with my car purchase.  I give you: 

The 2010 Ford Fusion SE in Sterling Gray.  It's not brand new, but almost!

What I like:
1. The gas mileage!  On my first trip to the cabin we got 30 MPG!
2.  The pretty blue dash lights.  Seriously mesmerizing.
3.  The V6 - It's a pretty fun to drive family sedan.  I bet I would get better gas mileage if I didn't enjoy that V6 quite so much.
4.  The Color. 
5.  I no longer need a telescoping snow brush to clean off the windshield.
6.  It's still pretty much paid for - or at least it will be once all the insurance stuff gets settled in the next few months. 

I'm not crazy about the fact that it does not have automatic lights or a thermometer -- but I'm getting used to that!  So far I really do like the car and we have not noticed the lack of a large place in back to haul stuff. 

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Dec. 29, 2010 continued

Much of the rest of the day of the fire was a blur.

When you see a part of your home burning, the first thing that goes through your mind is “What stupid thing did we do???” You blame yourself and wonder what you left on or plugged in that you shouldn’t have. I immediately thought of the simple light switch timers that we had installed the week before. We put two of them in, one for each of the block heaters on our trucks. The heaters help the vehicle start better in the cold and they warm up faster but they only need to be on for a few hours before you start the car. So, we put the timers in to save money on electricity. The “manual” for the timers was still sitting on my kitchen counter on the morning of the fire. I immediately started to beat myself up for the choice of those timers. Why did we put those in? To save a few bucks? Look what it saved us, I thought!

By the time the fire was out, I could see that our new neighbors shed had partially burned. The siding was gone and some of the roof was scorched. The neighbor behind us lost his siding too. It is just a melted mess.  The fire marshal told me they call vinyl siding “plastic gasoline for fires.” It melts and just adds fuel to them.

We each had to give separate statements to the police. They told us the arson investigator was on his way.


When you hear that, you again beat yourself up. Arson? Do they think we started the fire? Why would we? Did we do something to make them think this is arson? You immediately feel guilt even though you know you didn’t do anything

The first question the police officer asked me was “Does anybody not like you?”

Now, I consider myself a pretty likeable person but I am quite certain I have ticked off my fair share of people in my time. Have I ticked them off enough to burn down my garage? I don’t think so. I sure hope not.

We were both asked a lot of questions about what was plugged in, where things were in the garage. We both told them to the best of our recollection.

The fire investigators spent a lot of time looking around in the garage and at our electrical box in the house and they quickly zeroed in on Mike’s brand new Ford F-150 pickup truck. We have had the truck for about 6 months and it only had about 6,000 miles on it. It still had the new car smell. It was a pretty truck.

Before long we saw them cover the engine compartments of both trucks with big blue tarps. The investigator came in side.

I was nervous, remember, I had just heard the word "arson" in the minutes before.  He told us that it looked like the fire originated in the engine compartment of Mike’s truck and that experts from our insurance company and Ford will have to look at it. He told us to stay out of the garage because the structure was not safe and the one remaining wall could fall down.

Then he said “there is nothing in there that you can save, it is all gone.”

I started to cry.

Then he said “this is all just stuff, you can replace it. Rest assured, you did nothing wrong and you did not cause this in any way, arson is also no longer a concern.”

I started to cry more. Finally, someone was telling us that this wasn’t our fault. That it just happened and was going to happen regardless of the precautions we took or how careful we were. We didn’t do anything wrong. I suppose my tears were much like a sigh of relief.

After the investigators left, there was a steady stream of visitors. Mike’s Grandma heard about the fire and came by. She brought donuts. There is something about food that just makes you feel better! Mike’s parents were there a couple of times. The last time was to drop of a van for us to drive until we bought new cars. Mike’s boss. Our insurance agent. The claims rep. More TV stations. The phone rang constantly. My Mom and Dad. Jodi. The claims rep for the cars. I cried with each familiar voice that I heard. 

The kids were scheduled to be in the backup daycare that day. They love backup daycare. I couldn’t get them there because we didn’t have car seats for the borrowed van.

In the few quiet moments of the day, we couldn’t do much. I am a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of girl and I couldn’t touch a thing. If it were up to me, there would have been a flatbed there that day to take away the burned out trucks. A roll-off would have been there and that garage would have been coming down. We couldn’t do much more than sit at the kitchen table and stare at the mess. And stare at it was exactly what we did. We are still staring at it.