Thursday, 3 May 2007

And then we had the fire - part 1

And then we had the fire . . . it is over two years ago now in time, but still short in memory.

January 15th 2005 and I was at the Panto after show party. The shows had gone well and the party was in full swing. Son was there. He had been doing the sound for the Panto. Daughter had been given a lift home. She had been in the audience with friends and friends Dad.

Without any warning the nightmare began. Daughter was there running screaming through the hall 'you've got to come home, you've got to come home.' I kept asking why and she kept saying you've got to come home. WHY? Because the house is on fire. Godawful moment. One I won't forget, followed by a night full of them. Somehow I drove the three miles home – shaking off offers of help – I needed help, but I had to get home and now.

I drove up our track shivering with dread – the night sky lit by an ominous orange glow. I arrived at the end of the track to find three fire engines, hoards of firemen, lights, police, hoses everywhere, people standing around . . organised chaos.

It wasn't our own house that was on fire, but our gorgeous 200 year old Steading. We rented it out as a holiday cottage. Our own cottage was in darkness, no electricity, no phone. Daughter with the help of her friends had got all the animals outside, not knowing how safe our own house was. I was allowed into our house. We got the electricity back on, one phone line still not working, but the other was ok. Together we calmed and got all the animals indoors. Daughter was oddly calm now. I left her sitting on the bonnet of the car her friends and friends dad there to comfort her. She was in a state of shock having found the fire and having had to deal with it and call the fire brigade, but I had to leave her and go and face what was waiting for me.

I walked the dreaded yards to The Steading. Up until the moment I walked around the corner it had been mostly hidden from view - maybe it wasn't happening, maybe it wasn't that bad! What met my eyes was pure horror. I can still remember standing there going 'oh my god', over and over. What had been the downstairs bathroom and sauna was a black hole full of flames, Where the roof had been flames leapt up. Sparks were raining down. The whole of the upstairs had either gone, or was going. The roof had collapsed, both front doors gone and yet incredulously the ground floor two foot thick walls were still standing. One gable end had collapsed and the other was dangerous. Then the fireman were there, running towards me, grabbing me. A lot of them I knew from the Village. 'Are you on your own' one said ? 'Er . . er . . er I'm separated' I blurted out. The fireman smiled kindly, . . .'yes I know that, but is there anyone with you?' And apart from my daughter and her friends there wasn't.

Then my dear friend from the village turned up – I shall call her Angel. She looked after daughter and later picked son up from the party. Oh yes the party was still going on . . . At some point her friends left - I don't remember when.

The fireman asked 'where are your guests?' Another heart stopping moment. The guests cars were there. I looked at The Steading . .if the guests had been in there . . . they were dead. I phoned my estranged husband he was in Dubai working. 'You might want to come back, The Steading is completely ablaze and we may have eight deaths I blurted out.' I can't really remember what he said – I thought he might be cross I had woken him.

Suddenly the guests were there – small stag party – they had been down the pub. My Angel stepped in and organised tea and coffee. She also sorted them out beds for the night. A couple of them got a bit nasty about having to wait to talk to the police. I had no time to worry about how they were feeling.

Later Son arrived back with Angel too upset to even look at The Steading. He said lots of people had offered him a lift home, but he had stayed at the party so that life could go on being normal for just a bit longer. Heart wringing.

Idea! Kids needed something to do. Joined onto our cottage was The Farm House. Very close to The Steading – but pronounced safe. We opened up The Farm House kitchen and I set the kids to work making tea and coffee for the firemen. We dug out biscuits and cakes and made sandwiches. The kids had a great time and it all turned into a bizarre picnic.

I spent the next few hours talking to firemen, the Fire Chief, police, Police chief ours was a big fire. And for all you holiday cottage owners out there, never had I been so glad that I had my landlords gas certificate, boiler certificate, had my chimneys swept and so on. Everything was in order, the fire was unlikely to have been caused by my negligence and this was proved later.

Joined onto The Steading was Jonna's Cottage – another cottage we let out. At one point I went over with the keys thinking the fire men might need it to get in to Jonna's . . .then things got even worse . . . .

PS Apologies for any typos, or any bits that don't make sense I can write this, but am finding it hard to read through.

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