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This Christmas was 🔥
Literally, We Almost Burned Our House Down
As the title says, things got a little dicey this Christmas, but with every failure, there are lessons to learn, and in the case of someone who writes for Substack, there are lessons to share.
3 Lessons Learned from Almost Burning My House Down on Christmas
Let’s not amplify this; we’re not talking about a raging inferno due to frying a Turkey or building a monster bonfire; we’re talking about a wild grass fire.
The danger here was that this was burning, and nobody knew. And that is what will lead us to the first lesson of the three shared today.
Before we get to the list below, I’m going to share the entire order of events through the lessons, so each lesson will contain a segment of the events happening with a reflection period which, while not had at that moment (I had to save my house), but those which came after which as a family we have discussed.
Lesson 1: Complacency Kills
Question: How did this fire happen?
I sent my son (13) outside to burn some boxes and paper from the Christmas presents we’d unwrapped. It was no big deal; one of his jobs around the house was to burn cardboard and paper, so it wasn’t a new task being dropped in his lap and him being left to fend for himself as a rookie; the kid likes his job of “Fire Starter”.
North Carolina was a brisk 20 degrees out, with random gusts of wind whipping off the river, making it feel even colder.
So, my son starts the fire, sees it get low, and is cold as hell, so he thinks the fire is low enough for him to head in as the embers burn out.
Remember those random gusts of wind..?
All I can assume is that a breeze came by and kicked those embers onto the grass as I was not out there, but some time after he’d come in, I looked to my wife and said, “It smells like burning” I then get up to look outside as the only fire going would have been the one my son had lit.
That’s when I saw my entire fucking lawn on fire.
This is where the lesson of “Never Get Complacent” comes in.
My son didn’t wait for the fire to die out, he assumed it would, but that goes against the lesson I’ve taught him that any fire we start could become a fire we fight if we don’t tend it properly.
He was cold and figured; I can head in and get warm without putting this out, no big deal; it’s not like the house will burn down…
But the fault wasn’t entirely his own:
I knew it was cold as hell.
I knew the gusts were picking up at random.
I didn’t even think to look out the window to confirm the fire was out.
I, too, was complacent in my duties as the overall responsibility of this “fire starting” evolution.
No matter how routine an event is, if it comes with risk, it needs to be given its due respect. Neither my son nor I respected this fire, which almost cost us. For you, look at some of the habits and behaviors you used to be vigilant on, which are now routine, and nobody gives the risk a second thought. I’m sure you’ll find some areas where things may need to be tightened up lest you learn your lesson the hard way.
Lesson 2: Drillers are Killers
After smelling the smoke and looking out the window, I saw flames a foot away from my back deck. From here, it’s a blur of “Put that shit out”, and I went from my living room to the backyard without a thought; I got down there and started stomping on the flames when I realized the area of coverage is too big, and because of the wind the flames are spreading too fast for me to handle on my own…
I looked back and saw my wife on the top deck asking if she needed to call the fire department and my son and daughter running down the stairs towards me.
Let me repeat:
Less than 10 seconds passed, and my Wife was there, ready to call the Fire Department, waiting on my order, and there were my two children, running directly at me as all the black parts surrounding me in this photo were still on fire.
I was stomping the fire out, assessing the situation, judging what I could do, and saw that I wouldn’t be able to get the job done alone, then when my son came down, I said to get the hose, and my daughter was told to get the fire extinguishers, and from there I told Jackie, “Don’t call, we’ve got it”.
My son had the hose and started hitting the fire near the deck with water, this freed me to head to where the fire was rapidly spreading, and I started stomping that out, and this is when my daughter came running onto the grass with the fire extinguisher in hand telling me she has to “pull the pin and point it at the bottom of the fire”, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at how she was telling me (confirming?) how she was supposed to use the equipment she’d brought me.
At this point, I started to turn the evolution into a teaching moment, and from there, I was telling my son and daughter the How’s and Why’s of Fire Fighting.
My wife then threw my daughter a second fire extinguisher; at this point, we were walking the grass, putting the remaining burn out.
“We’ve Got It” - That’s a Product of Preparedness
The lesson here?
My family has run through fire drill scenarios where we talk about how to use a fire extinguisher, where they’re located, and then use them on controlled fires in our pit.
So when SHTF, my 10-year-old little girl knew where to get the canister, how to get it ready for use, and how to use it for maximum efficiency properly.
SIDE NOTE: As we were walking the grass and putting the remaining fires out, I asked my daughter to hold her hand up - it was rock fucking steady.
Knowing what to do before you do it will keep you from freezing, freaking out, or failing.
You must prepare yourself as best you can for the many scenarios you may find yourself in. I’m not the guy who is paranoid and counting exits at restaurants or tweaking if I don’t have my back to a wall, but with that said, I am situationally aware and prepared for the wildest of situations as I play the “What if” game all the damn time in my head.
Extra rations of food?
Do you have fire extinguishers?
First Aid kits in your home and car?
Clean water for the family to last days?
These items aren’t used frequently, but the impact is huge when they aren’t there. You need to prepare yourself, your spouse, and your children for how to best respond to an emergency scenario. It’s not just about you; those you’re working with need to know what to do, and more importantly, they need to know what to do if you aren’t around.
Set your family up for success, and prepare everyone for the disaster possibilities of home ownership and life. It’s not “Zombies” you need to prepare for; it’s fire, flood, riots, and hurricanes.
Lesson 3: Mistakes Happen, and That’s Okay
As I said at the beginning of this piece, my son is the one who walked away before the fire was ultimately out.
After it was all settled and we were standing on a smoking lawn without any fires remaining, my son looked a little bummed, so I walked up to him and asked what was going on in his head; we then had this exchange:
Son: This was my fault, dad. I should have stayed until it was entirely out.
Me: No, man, we’re good. These things happen, and now we know we all need to be vigilant with everything we do, especially when it involves fire. Everything and everyone are fine; you and your sister didn’t hesitate to run out there with me, did you?
Me: That’s the part I’m thinking about; I’m not worried about how this started, it was an accident, and I get it; it is friggen cold - but more importantly, my kids are ready, and I couldn’t be more proud of how you carried yourselves. You both ran towards me when I was surrounded by fire.
The Lesson is More Important than the Small Fire
My son made a mistake, and he knows it; the fear this event instilled in him will have both taught a lesson and punished him with self-imposed guilt driving the point home about why we must remain alert at all times in a way that goes deeper than anything I could do, say, or yell.
This event also presented one of those rare moments of answering the question, “Will I run towards or away from the fire?”, I saw once again that I am a man who is prepared to answer the call. I also recognized this uncommon event as a chance to see that my children are also down to ride when SHTF, which is why it was more important that I recognized what they did right than focused on what went wrong. My children ran towards the flame to defend their home and support their father - if that’s not a sign that my wife and I are doing something right, I don’t know what is.
As you read through this, I implore you to focus on the elements of your life that have been relaxed. The best fight is the one you can avoid; the second best is the one you’re ready for. Make sure you’re ready for as many man-made and natural “fights” as possible, and remember, we must run towards that which challenges us in life, not away.
- Zachary Small
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