Hello, this is Shannon’s husband, Mark. Shannon asked me to make a post on her behalf, as she is not able to access the internet for awhile.

Monday morning at about 3:00AM, her house and most of the contents were destroyed by fire. Shannon and the girls escaped unharmed, although it was a close call. The cats and the parakeets however, did not survive. Shannon and the kids were rescued by the Astoria Fire Department off of the front porch roof, while they could hear the windows breaking on both sides of the house behind them. Hooray for the Astoria Fire Department!

Shannon and the kids have lived at the Holiday Inn for the past couple of days, but she found a housesitting gig for a little while that starts today, so they can at least get out of the hotel room. The girls made it back to school Tuesday, with some new clothes that were bought with help from the Red Cross.

I spent Monday afternoon going through the remains of the house, searching for salvageable items, and giving the poor cats a funeral. Yesterday I went back with a truck and a friend and we spent the day salvaging some more. It looks like a great deal of Alice’s vintage clothing will survive, since her room did not get very burned or much smoke damage. Most of Shannon’s clothes are gone though, and only some of Opal’s look retrievable. Not much else made it out: a few pieces of furniture and books from Alice’s room, a couple of kitchen items, and a few other treasures, like Shannon’s purse, keys, passport and things like that. Computers, stereo, digital cameras and so forth were all destroyed completely.

picture courteesy of Astoria fire department, via the Daily Astorian

In the shock of dealing with this near tragic happenstance, I learned a few things:

One of the very facts that made that old house so beautiful, and so of this place, is one of the reasons it was so completely damaged. Those thrifty and sensible Scandinavians of Astoria in the late 19th century sided the interior walls of those old houses with Douglas Fir 1×6, of which they had a lot, and then covered it over in wallpaper. This house still had just wood and wallpaper interior walls like that, except for a couple of small portions. Those small portions covered in sheetrock did not burn. The wood and wallpaper however, burned like a torch. As much as I don’t like the aesthetic of drywall, nor do I like to work with it, it is obviously a far safer wall covering than what was there.

Again, beautiful and practical balloon framing, of which I am very fond, is what those Scandinavians framed the house with, but they did not put in fire blocking, so when the fire got inside the walls downstairs it was able to very quickly travel to the upper floors and attic space.

from the Wiki entry: “Balloon framing has several disadvantages as a construction method:

1. The creation of a path for fire to readily travel from floor to floor. This is mitigated with the use of firestops at each floor level.”


Remember those fire escape ladders that they talked about in school safety classes? They meant it. Shannon and the kids were trapped on the second story of a burning house with no safe way to the ground. They were Very Lucky that the room that was the safest was also the only one next to a porch roof, and that the fire station was only a couple of blocks away.

Apparently, not only should you keep good batteries in your smoke detector, and test them frequently, you’re also supposed to replace the whole smoke detector at least every ten years. Who knew? Well, the fire marshall, that’s who. And then me, and now you, too. Shannon was awakened by the sound of the flames and the smell of smoke; the smoke detector upstairs went off after she was already up and only a couple minutes or less before the space was no longer a safe place to be.

Fire is amazing stuff. It is totally capricious in what it consumes and what it leaves behind. In the living room, where all was charred black, I turned over the upturned firewood caddy by the woodstove and found a bright, clean and unburnt piece of firewood. However, the “junk drawer” in the kitchen (everybody has one of those, right?) was practically a work of art, wrought by fire. Sally, we thought of you. In Alice’s room, in all the chaos of torn out walls, water damage, and wet, old-fashioned cellulose insulation, I found an unbroken and unscathed vintage bevelled mirror, a recent gift to Alice from friends. In Opal’s closet, in Opal’s very smoke damaged room, all the way at the bottom of a pile of smoky, charred and soggy clothes and toys, was a totally unscathed and like new piping chanter. This is like a pipe off of a bagpipe with a reed and everything, but you blow directly into it with your mouth. I wish I had a picture, but a quick websearch did not yield what I was looking for. Anyway, Andrew and I tried playing it and were cracking up laughing on the way home with it.

If you want something to withstand smoke damage, store it in a suitcase. Every single suitcase that I opened had undamaged items inside, even when they were found in totally smoke filled rooms. That smoke damage is nasty stuff, too. It was fortunate that Shannon had thinned her lifestyle down to such a small plastic content. The place mostly smelled like a wood and paper fire, not a bunch of toxic, melted and burned plastic. For the job of working inside the house after the fire, this meant the difference between wearing a respirator or not. I was thankful that I didn’t need to wear one of those all day.

People can be very generous. The outpouring of support and offers of help have been almost overwhelming. I know that there was an account set up yesterday at the bank, and I don’t know what is going on with that yet, or what the number is, but amongst the spectators and looky-loos, a total stranger walked up to the house where we were working yesterday, talked to Shannon for a bit and handed her a hundred dollar bill. Everyone has been offering replacement goods and help of all kind.

Until we figure out what the next housing will be, goods are something that Shannon can’t really take a lot of right now. She asked that I direct any blog-land donation offers towards the Red Cross office in Astoria, or your local Red Cross. They have been so helpful, fast and efficient it’s hard to believe.

Enough from me for now. I will relay any blog stuff Shannon asks me to do until she has computer and internet set up again.