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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.

It’s my sabbath, and I have been in the moment all day. On my sabbath, I take a break from Time, not from work…
I thought I would offer up this up for today’s entry.

This is one of my favorite passages in any book. (Let it be known, I really don’t read fiction. I pretty much read my same old reference books over and over.) In this case, the book is Carla Emery‘s Encyclopedia of Country Living.
This bit is about food and growing it, but one could be creative and apply these thoughts to other areas of life perhaps.

“The wonderful magic at the heart of a food-growing household is the magic that turns your home-produced turnips and cream, apples and meat into your meals. The moment of triumph is when you say to the family, “Here’s what we worked so hard to grow, and isn’t it good!” I think you cook most happily, freely, and independently when you make good things out of what Providence is giving you!
Lane Morgan, author of the Winter Harvest Cookbook (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1990), says, ‘I agree entirely that cooks are spending too much money at the supermarket and at the gourmet supply store. But I think we would profit by spending more time looking at cuisines of other cultures, to help us better use what our particular gardens can grow. Country people around here will eat canned green beans and carrots all winter, which are considerable work to put up, because that’s good Amereican garden food. Meanwhile they could be eating fresh kale and leeks and Japanese mustards from that same garden, which would be tastier, more nutritious, and easier all around, but they don’t because that’s foreign stuff and they don’t know the Greek or Indian or Japanese techniques to make them wonderful. They’ll make clam dip from a package, but they wouldn’t consider an Indian chutney made of garden mint and chutney, served with garden spinach and potatoes. Too strange.’
Making menus out of what you can grow is the way that Great-Grandmother did it. Each week she looked in the larder and the cellar and took a walk through the garden to see what she had to work with. Then she made menus. When she had eggs and milk aplenty, a little honey and some stale bread, the family had a bread pudding. In May she served rhubarb in it, in June strawberries over it, and in September peaches — because that’s the way they grew.
To have 365 days of independent eating, you’ve got to learn to eat what you can grow, and you’ve got to learn to grow what you want to eat. At first it will be hard, but stick to it. If you don’t like what you have, eat it anyway and use the energy of your distaste to figure how to get what you’ll like better. If your only meat is elk, eat elk until you can raise something else. If you miss bacon, get four little pigs. In six months, they’ll be 200-pounders. and you’ll have a year’s supply of bacon plus a sow to breed and keep the bacon coming. If you’re still living in the city and you don’t have anything but dreams, try for fun buying only what you imagine you could grow — in a natural, unprocessed state — like whole grains, and see if you can learn to live off it.
When lettuce is in season, have a salad every day — you can’t preserve it. If you miss it in the off-season, contrive a way to raise winter lettuce in the house. If you miss sweets, learn beekeeping. If you have barley and corn, make your bread, pancakes, and pie crust out of barley floour, cornmeal crust, and a bear-meat filling. If you have some tough old hens past their laying time, 3 extra male goats, and 100 rabbits, then learn good ways to cook tough old hens, goat meat, and rabbit.”

for the record, I don’t like turnips, I have eaten bear meat (and it is good), and I am so not there yet.