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  1. #1
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    Here's something you don't see every morning

    I'm headed to my gym at 6:20 am this morning (I know) and a plume of smoke catches my eye. I speed over to the scene and a house is spouting flames 30 feet above the roof.

    Short story: a garage fire last night sent the family outside. Fire Department shows up, thinks the fire is out, family goes back in to collect some important stuff at 3am but goes to stay with relatives, fire starts back up and it's "goodbye house".

    I could think of four other cameras I wished I'd had with me but my trusty Canon SD550 is always parked under my drivers seat for just such an occasion. This was in Westminster. I went back to see the cleanup and started talking to a coupla kids next to me. Turned out it was their house. They looked pretty bummed. No one was injured which is probably the most important thing but looking at their burned down home sure sucked.

    Everybody, do a test on your home fire alarms right now.
    Last edited by xcguy; 04-03-2011 at 10:50 AM.
    A blind man searches in a dark room for a black hat that isn't there. Dashiell Hammett

  2. #2
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    prayers go out to the family. Just changed the batteries in my fire alarms

  3. #3
    Getting Fit
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    I hope no lives were loss,
    2 weeks ago a house 2 houses from me burned down, the same night I replaced the smoke detectors batteries, next day I bought a bigger fire extinguisher.

    I was a wake up call

  4. #4
    crash and burn at 45
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    is that just off sheridan, north of 112th? looks like a familiar neighborhood i cut through occaisionally on road rides
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  5. #5
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    Alarms are for pussies, if I smell a fire in my sleep I wake up and pimp slap it away.
    Quote Originally Posted by Qatarbhoy
    I have to ask for them to do a "Number two" on my head

  6. #6
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    Damn that sucks! I hope they were able to get the irreplaceable items out. My thoughts/prayers go out to the family

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Funrover
    Damn that sucks! I hope they were able to get the irreplaceable items out. My thoughts/prayers go out to the family
    The kid said he'd gotten "some important items" out, but so much for his computer, home work, clothes, sports stuff. The basketball hoop in the driveway was melted. How many of us have a file case full of titles, bills of sale, important tax info sitting by the front door waiting to be grabbed on the way out? I suppose everyone has their own idea of what's important to grab if they only could take a few things, like Fido and some pictures. I just went by there again---it had a tile roof which kept the fire inside the house for awhile and built up even more heat. The guys there putting fencing up said the entire second floor had come down.

    Yeah, it's just south of W. 118th Place. I'm just hoping they had stellar hazard insurance and everything, including new home, will be totally replaced. The kid can buy himself some new homework.
    Last edited by xcguy; 02-13-2010 at 03:25 PM.
    A blind man searches in a dark room for a black hat that isn't there. Dashiell Hammett

  8. #8
    giddy up
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    Thanks for posting this. My batteries are getting replaced tonight.

    Puts my flooded kitchen floor into perspective.
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  9. #9
    Rigid in Evergreen
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    That's got to be at least a little bit embarrassing for the fire department.

  10. #10
    ..ouch
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    Quote Originally Posted by xcguy
    I'm just hoping they had stellar hazard insurance and everything, including new home, will be totally replaced.
    That sounds good in theory. Reality is that unless they take the initial low-ball insurance offer they'll spend the next 6+ months negotiating with the insurance company and be lucky if they start rebuilding in under a year. The insurance will never replace the next 18-24 months worth of their life that they're now going to loose.

    While everyone is checking batteries you might also want to whip out your homeowner's policy. If you're currently insured for the market purchase price of your home, then you're at least 25% underinsured for something like this.

  11. #11
    Yappy little dog!
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    Nice pics, but that is sad. Looks like the house next to it suffered some damage as well. The siding is definitely melted.

  12. #12
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    I never went through a house fire so I never had to test my insurance coverage. I always had what was termed "full replacement" but, again, who knows what that ultimately covered? I know my bikes weren't covered unless I took out de-facto coverage by lowering my deductible to $500 or less, which would have upped my yearly rate just too much. I'm now in an apartment after selling my last house and my cameras and bikes are all covered. Of course, not so all the info on my computers etc.

    I got rid of so much stuff (coming from a large house to an apartment) it was ridiculous. I got it all down to the essential stuff. For this family, even that is gone. Yesterday a guy said there was two vehicles in the garage. Which asks the question: how much is their auto insurance gonna help them?

    Just being rhetorical here, folks. The evening before this all happened this family never thought it would happen. I'm planning my escape route from my second floor apartment today. Gonna tie a big azz rope with knots in it every 18 inches to facilitate my going out a window. You know, just in case the impossible happens.
    Last edited by xcguy; 04-03-2011 at 10:49 AM.
    A blind man searches in a dark room for a black hat that isn't there. Dashiell Hammett

  13. #13
    ..ouch
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    Having lost our house to a fire last year there were a few things I've learned:

    1) I have a whole new respect for fire & smoke. All those things you would think you could run in and grab by covering your face from the smoke.. you can't. Real smoke isn't like the movies. It's a solid black, super heated thick toxic soup. Even crawling on the ground you can't physically open your eyes as it will literally burn your eyeballs when you try. If you have a 2nd story, don't assume that you'll have enough time to run up and grab your kids or pets. All the fitness and adrenaline in the world won't stop you from passing straight out if you breath in more than a couple searing lungfulls of this crap. Have an escape route and emergency roll ladders that can be accessed quickly for every above-ground level bedroom because people will need to exit from the windows.

    2) Insurance will be a battle. Our house was insured for 50K over the market price with a great company (USAA) that has a 25% additional rider on the dwelling and personal property. No matter how good your insurance is, the first quick offer will always be a low ball. It took eight months to settle with ours and in consulting with insurance attorneys along the way they said that was quick compared to the average. If you have State Farm, you'll notice their typical temp living clause is 24 months, that's because they know it'll likely take at least 12 months before you reach a settlement to start rebuilding. It's a fight you have to make though, in our case the final settlement was six figures more than the initial offer and even at the settlement it's a tight budget to rebuild. Which leads to:

    3) It costs at least 25% more to rebuild your home than it costs to buy it at market price. More if you live outside of town. For the family above, the costs to demo everything, haul away those burnt cars, fix the neighbors houses, etc, will all come out of their coverage limit. That adds up quick. If your house was built before 1970 there's a 90% chance that something in your home contains asbestos (old vinyl floor tiles under the carpet, drywall joint compound, pipe wrap in the walls, etc). If so, once that catches on fire then your entire house and everything in it is legally considered "hot" due to the smoke spreading the asbestos particles and everything that is removed has to be professional mitigated (tents, filtered air pumps, etc). That will cost you 40-50K for an average sized house.. and all that comes out of the total bucket of cash to rebuild your home.

    Sorry for the long post, but hopefully this saves someone some heartache down the road. We're hoping to be rebuilt by late fall, which will be close to two years since the fire. I've averaged 20+ hours/week of evenings, lunch breaks and weekends dealing with either insurance or rebuilding for the past year.

  14. #14
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    Jeez, thump, don't be so reticent. What I'm most interested in is the moment you realized your house was burning, what did you do? Whatever you did do of course will be different from the next person who's faced with the same emergency but any tips would be appreciated. The family's house in my pics, I'm sure if they had to relive the moment of truth over again they would do...what?

    For me, all I imagine thinking about is getting out. I've got my rope ladder set up, a bunch of warm clothes by the window. All my office stuff, well, sayonarastuff if the fire is between me and my office. Me first, just like I'm thinking it was with you and your family. From your experience, how have you prepared for "the next impossible" and what would you do differently?
    A blind man searches in a dark room for a black hat that isn't there. Dashiell Hammett

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by thump
    3) It costs at least 25% more to rebuild your home than it costs to buy it at market price.
    .
    So are you saying it costs 25% more including the land? A lot of some peoples home values have a large portion in the land itself.

    Sounds almost like the contractors jump on the same ripoff bandwagon the insurance people are by overpricing the rebuild. And having the pressure on the "homeless" person wanting things to go fast on their side.

    Thanks for the insight. Sorry you had to deal with that but sharing it is valuable for others to hear.

  16. #16
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    whoa - glad to hear everyone's safe from that horrific fire!

    Thump - all good things to think about. I happen to backup my personal laptop at work (not because of fire potential), and I keep some of my valuable documents in a safety deposit box (again, not because of fire potential). You've got me re-thinking things now (insurance/ family/ most valuable items). I've got kids and it's scary to think about not being able to get to them on the second floor.

    Thanks for the post and the valuable reality check!
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by xcguy
    Jeez, thump, don't be so reticent. What I'm most interested in is the moment you realized your house was burning, what did you do? .....

    From your experience, how have you prepared for "the next impossible" and what would you do differently?
    We were lucky. Ours was during the day. No one was hurt besides some light cuts and burns on me from trying to go back in and retrieve valuables. Before the FD arrived I tried breaking some windows in rooms that weren't on fire and belly crawling to grab stuff, but it didn't work. The heat from the fire pressurizes the house, the moment you break a window it turns that room into an exhaust vent and fills it with boiling heat and smoke. It's like trying to crawl in front of a kerosene bullet heater.. the heat dries your eyes to the point your body won't let you open them and after a couple searing lungfulls of black ink I knew I would pass out quickly if I didn't bail. This isn't like campfire smoke, it's a soup of toxic plastics, paint, cleaners, carpet and a dozen other toxic fumes that could each kill you by themselves.

    In planning - have dead simple escape routes and ensure your kids know them, have good detectors and extinguishers, scan all your valuable pictures, take pictures of all your valuable personal items and keep remote backups of important data, vote "yes" on ballots for funding your local FD, if you think you'd ever need to go "back in" then invest in a full-face fire mask and keep it easily accessible from the outside.

    Quote Originally Posted by lidarman
    So are you saying it costs 25% more including the land?
    Yes.. take the folks above for example. Say that house is worth 400K on the market and they're insured for the same. Now, see all that plywood and fencing? That came from a "disaster response" contractor that the FD called after the fire was out. The bill will likely be about 4-5K for the board up including winterizing what's left of the plumbing. See the neighbor's house damage? That'll be at least another 10 -15K for replacing siding, soffit, fascia, some roofing, maybe a couple windows, etc (more if the neighbor is an arse about the new replacement siding not perfectly matching the old) . This is before you even start on the costs for demo and the tons of trash disposal. When you do finally get around to rebuild, which for their house will probably be a total scrape, then you'll need a new permit (probably around 7K for that house), you'll need an architect and structural engineer for new plans ($$) and if you want a GC to handle the rebuild then the typical rate is a 15% of the project price (or 20% if you use a "disaster restoration" company). If the folks above are careful and aggressively involved with the rebuild process (getting multiple estimates from all the subs, etc) they'll be lucky to get everything done for 450K. If they don't have the capacity or the motivation to deal with it and let a contractor do it for them, they'll likely top 500K. Oh, and btw, in CO everything on the dwelling can deducted for recoverable depreciation (wood, concrete, windows, etc), so if they eventually settle on 450K, they'll likely get a check for 375K and have to figure out a way to fund the extra 75K so they can spend the full 450K before they can recover the depreciation from the insurance co. And if they have a mortgage, then the 375K will actually be paid to the mortgage company and they'll "release" it to them in milestones as they progress on the rebuild and pass their inspections. In the meantime, they'll have to deal with paying their contractors. Again, a disaster restoration outfit will deal with all of this for them, for a mere 20%. The entire setup is a racket.

    Even if they don't scrape the old building, the pressure from the heat will have forced smoke inside of every wall so they'll have to pull down every interior wall and ceiling so all the studs and sheeting can be ozone cleaned and sealed with a ton of shellac to mitigate the smoke smell (how's that for green living?).

    We have a few acres of land and will still end up spending substantially more for the demo/rebuild then we did to buy the place, including land.

    Now, before these folks even get to deal with this fun, they'll have to find a place to live, buy clothes, toothbrushes and figure out a daily living and work routine. Shopping for even just the basics everyone uses in their daily routines. At the same time, they'll need to meet with adjusters and start the process of cataloging every single item stored in the home and then negotiating with insurance on the price (depreciated mind you) of their two bazillion personal possessions. If they want that depreciation back, then they'll need to keep, organize and turn in receipts of every single item (imagine the world's longest expense report and you're just getting started).

    Quote Originally Posted by PDB
    .. I've got kids and it's scary to think about not being able to get to them on the second floor.

    Thanks for the post and the valuable reality check!
    Knowing what I know now, I would strongly recommend keeping any child that couldn't evacuate themself using a ladder either in bedroom right next to you, or at least at ground level. Make sure any basement bedrooms have proper functioning egress windows that work, and a way to easily get to them. Never count on being able to make it through a hallway or staircase.

    xcguy - Hope that wasn't too reticent. Now I'm off to finish prepping some lighting that I'll be wiring up tomorrow as soon as I finish my day job.

  18. #18
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    Thanks, thump

    I know its painful for you to even think about your experience but nothing like advice from someone who's been there. For awhile I was looking at beater homes to fix up and sell. The guy I was looking with had no problems calling any room in the basement with a closet a bedroom. I'd see the tiny windows that no one could ever get through in an emergency (grandfathered in as a proper bedroom window from years past, not so these days) and say I could never in all good conscience sell a home calling those basement rooms bedrooms.

    I would also build homes that had lower roof lines outside all upstairs bedrooms so evacuees could step out onto a roof, then drop down somehow. The basement "bedrooms" all had proper egress windows to modern code.

    It's the automatic escape routines that most families probably don't practice, like in the dark.
    I've got external hard drives full of my computers' info but I don't keep them in my safe deposit box, which I'm going to starting soon.
    A blind man searches in a dark room for a black hat that isn't there. Dashiell Hammett

  19. #19
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    EX firefighter here.

    if you think you'd ever need to go "back in" then invest in a full-face fire mask and keep it easily accessible from the outside.
    Glad you made it out alive Ken, but unless you are a fully trained firefighter this would most likely be a death warrant. The added confidence may lead to bad decisions being made. "Maybe I will grab the jewerly too" In addition to the mask, a full set of turn outs and nomex is essential to survive. Not to mention the training to recognize backdraft situations(introducing oxygen to a oxygen starved, super heated environment) and building collapse. Remember any non-cotton clothing will melt to your skin the minute you enter the burning building. Burning wool produces toxic gases.

    The only thing worth saving in this manner would be your family and if you're considering this seriously. Consider that they are probably already dead from smoke inhalation, the leading cause of death in a building fire.

  20. #20
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    seeing the disaster services plywood up already as they fight the fire is a total fail on the FDs part. WTF?

  21. #21
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    Thump, I very much appreciate you speaking up regarding your experience. Gonna have a talk with my wife tonight about the points you brought up. I never even considered a few of them.
    A trail thatís too difficult wouldnít exist because itíd never be used. But, trails can exist thatíre too difficult for you.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shrederland
    seeing the disaster services plywood up already as they fight the fire is a total fail on the FDs part. WTF?
    That plywood went up the evening before after they thought the original fire was out. It'd started in the garage and must have been smoldering in an unseen location (obviously) only to flare up in earnest after the family went in around 3am to get some stuff.

    As one of the kids in the family told me dejectedly "they told us the fire was out".
    A blind man searches in a dark room for a black hat that isn't there. Dashiell Hammett

  23. #23
    holding back the darkness
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shrederland
    seeing the disaster services plywood up already as they fight the fire is a total fail on the FDs part. WTF?
    Salvage and overhaul.
    The overhaul phase of fire suppression happens after the fire is "out". We begin looking for fire and heat and signs of smoke damage to areas adjacent to the actual fire area. This usually means a lot of pulling ceilings, punching holes in walls, inspection with a Thermal Imager, ect. It can be a fairly damaging process and is done judiciously to minimize further damage and to protect physical evidence for the Fire Investigators.
    So... the original fire is out. Overhaul is completed. Nothing hot registers on the thermal imager. Air monitoring is done and no products of combustion are detected. Fire investigators investigate. The restoration company comes in and secures the property.
    To say this is a total fail is a bit unfair. There must have been something slow and insidious about this particular fire. It sat deep inside the house where no one.... none of these professionals, infrared imagers, monitoring equipment, restoration folks, nobody found it; even after searching for it for hours. It hunkered down between floors or in a wall and crept back to life after about 2 hours.
    Then... it must of been undetected for some time. No one was there to notice it... it was early in the morning so it was unlikely that even a passerby or neighbor would have seen smoke or flame. By the time it was discovered the second time it had much more time to grow.
    Anyway... this is a terrible tragedy for the family who lived here, and my heart goes out to them. However, everything I have seen/heard leads me to believe that these guys did everything they were supposed to have done. Sometimes you do everything "right" and bad things still happen.
    And none of this addresses the ever-present consideraton of malicious activity (arson), which is something that is considered and ruled out on every fire...

  24. #24
    holding back the darkness
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    As long as we're all on the subject.... a couple PSA-type reminders..
    Change the smoke detector batteries every 6 months... even in the hardwired kind there are still battery back-ups.
    Keep doors closed as much as possible, especially in sleeping rooms. Fire doesn't kill most people, smoke kills people. Closed doors will keep fire and smoke out for a long time and prevent fire spread.
    Smoke in modern construction is highly toxic. Everyone knows about carbon monoxide, but since most furniture, cushions, carpet, and furnishings are made at least in part of plastics (hydrocarbons) you also have worse things to worry about, including Hydrogen Cyanide gas.
    The national average for response times is around 4 minutes. Add a minute or two once the FD is on scene to deploy hoselines and find the fire, and you're at about 6 minutes if everything goes according to the textbook, which it rarely does. Fire roughly doubles in size every minute or so which means its going to be about 32 times bigger after 6 minutes than it was in the first minute, so it happens fast. There is never time to go back into your house. For anything.

  25. #25
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    I talked more to cops than the firefighters there. As I was getting closer all's I could think about was did the family get out OK. There were ambulances all over the place. I finally got close enough to see the plywood. That made me think perhaps it was an abandoned house. But that was the plywood put up the night before and, yes, they did get out OK.
    Last edited by xcguy; 02-20-2010 at 05:26 AM.
    A blind man searches in a dark room for a black hat that isn't there. Dashiell Hammett

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