Saturday May 14th started out swimmingly; had a bonzer day at Williamsburg Farmers Market, then went straight to my nephew Rieley's (of Life of Rieley fame) eighth birthday party, where there were spiders and lizards and snakes, oh my. With a friend over visiting, I was fifteen minutes late getting outside to do evening chores. What a difference a few minutes can make. You'll see why as our story of woe and bloody great annoyance unfolds.
After milking goat two of six, it began to rain, and hard. Whether I try to get outside before the storm and wait as late as I can to let it pass, I will invariably be doing evening chores in the heaviest part of the rain, so I've long since given up trying to time it just right.
As I was closing the metal gate latch behind the fourth goat, there was a tremendous, colossal CRACK. In nearly the same instance, a strong feeling of uninvited electricity went through my body. As I fell back into the mud (perhaps from voltage-type shock, perhaps simply from surprise-type shock), three thoughts occurred to me in rapid succession: 1) "Stupid electric fence!" 2) "The electric fence isn't on." 3) "I've been struck by lightning."
You heard it here first -- your friendly neighborhood goat lady was on the receiving end of wee dram of Nature's fury. (Wanna hear me say it outloud? Check out the news clip.) It took a minute for my hand to obey me again, at which point, with immeasurable trepidation, I latched the gate and milked Cyan, one of our Alpines. I didn't even want to touch the gate to put her back, but there were still two more to do. Trouble was, those last two goats wouldn't come out of their barn. After a minute or two of unsuccessful calling in a rain heavy enough to soak through my Carhardt coat, I decided to pop into the house and check out the weather radar - if there would be a break in the clouds shortly, I could just wait.
It was as I was approaching the laundry room door, the windows of which are covered with paper to exclude sunlight in an effort to keep the house cool, that I saw light within. My first response was "He [my husband, Kevin] can never turn off that light behind himself." Then I saw that the light was all orange and wavy-like. Throwing open the door, I found the wall and floor of our laundry room aflame, fueled in part by the piles of stuff perpetually waiting to be sorted and put away properly. It's the wall abutting the kitchen, my favorite room in the house.
I hollered for Kevin, who had been outside closing the car windows when the lightning struck, to call 911 but he had seen the fire and was hustling the dogs out to his woodshop for safety. Unfortunately, the rain, which came all at once instead of off-and-on throughout the day as predicted, had soaked through his jeans double-time and rendered his phone inoperable.
Grabbing the garden hose, I tried to suppress the fire, as did Kevin was an industrial-sized fire extinguisher, the origin of which was never clear to me, but it would reignite almost as soon as we got it out. The fire was in the wall, where the blown-in cellulose insulation smolders like a cigar, deviously allowing you to think you've gotten it under control.
Kevin braved the thick, stinging smoke to get my phone off my desk while I threw open doors and windows to provide escape routes for our two housecats, who I could only assume were upstairs, beyond my reach no matter how much I squinted or held the collar of my t-shirt over my mouth and nose. Little Brother, our ginger tabby, was later seen to have fled, but our white cat Ichi was nowhere in site.
The fire crews arrived quickly, since we're within five miles of three fire houses. In fact, some of the firemen who attended this fire had also responded to our fire the week before Christmas six years ago. They probably aren't used to repeat business like that.
We retreated to the milkhouse, after I told every fireman I could get near to look for Ichi, and helplessly watched. Smoke poured from soffits all over the house. It looked like most of the building was involved. We could see the firemens' lights as they moved around the house. Windows were being broken out, charred cabinets were hastily thrown on the patio, they even chainsawed a four foot by two foot hole in the upstairs hallway wall, clear through to the outside.
There was a great deal of activity in the bedroom above the fire, the guest room that I hope will someday be the permanent abode of Alan Francis, my Englishman. "He's never gonna move here if his bedroom catches fire," was just one of the things I said that made the police officer who had arrived on scene first look at me funny. "This ain't even our first fire," I said, to explain the lack of tears and general sense of irritation rather than panic.
Watching all this, all I could think was "Not again. It was so difficult last time," and "I'm finished. I'll be wiped out this time for sure." You see, after the heat and smoke of the last fire ruined my equipment, supplies and inventory, it took me eighteen months to find the financing I needed to restart my business. A glimmer of hope came in the form of a handsome blond fireman who said he could smell the patchouli soap as they were going through the house. Well, that had to be good, right?
The other thing I was contending with was a female fireman (and yes, I'm leaving that gender contradiction in there) who was very keen on the idea of me being cleared medically. I couldn't stand the thought of being carted off to hospital and not being able to keep an eye on what was going on. I would've been able to resist her if my mother and one of my sisters hadn't shown up just then. Maybe I could get past the female fireman, but I'd never be able to get past my mom, so off to the ambulance I went. "What's your primary complaint?" the EMT asked me. "This fireman chick wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to get checked out," I said, being slightly cheeky. My vitals were fine and I even got to change into some (very temporarily) dry clothes that they'd fetched out of the house for me, though I felt guilty because Kevin was still soaked to the bone.
So the firemen finally get the blaze doused, tearing open holes in the walls and ceiling to look for hot spots. I've always found it ironic that the people putting out the fire can do more damage than the fire itself. After a quick chat with a WTVR photog who turned up, we were escorted inside to get valuables and such. The whole time we were sitting on the miking stand watching the goings-on, Kevin and I were picturing the damage from the last fire, the images worsening in our minds as the minutes ticked by. It wasn't nearly as bad this time. In fact, as we walked around pointing at damaged things and being thrilled that the weren't more damaged, the fireman escorting us actually said, "You might be the happiest fire victim I've ever seen."
The insurance company, Liberty Mutual, is taking very good care of us. Our belonging went to specialized cleaning companies, who can't throw anything out without me signing off on it, as opposed to last time when the clean-up company binned half of our stuff right off the bat (and a lot of undamaged or easily cleanable things were never seen again). They're also paying for me to stay in this nice little apartment from which I'm writing this newsletter. I still have to drive to the farm twice a day for milking and, for the first 20 days after the fire and the standard shutting off of power and water to the house, had to haul buckets of water for the goats. Thankfully, as of Friday, a plumber fixed it so one spigot is functional.
What does all this mean for the business? As you may have seen if you've seen us recently, some of our labels were a little schmutzy, but apart from that, the business got off scot-free. ...Well, maybe not that well. While we didn't lose much product to the fire, a lot of soaps slid from their drying racks and got jumbled together during the move. If you'll look in the website, you'll see that we're now selling perfectly-good, randomly-mixed, unlabeled soap by the pound. No sense letting it go to waste.
The contractor thinks the repairs will take three months, so operations will be shoe-horned in here for the duration. The insurance company thinks it will take five months, but I seriously hope they're wrong. This situation cannot go into the fourth quarter or I'll be in a right pickle.
So that's where we are, milking goats at one place and making soap in another. It's not gonna be easy, but like they say, nothing worthwhile ever is.
P.S. Ichi turned up the next day, so everyone's present and accounted for.