I started this story last Saturday after I took pictures of homes that are now red and yellow tagged and about to slide down one of the hills in San Pablo, CA. For 21 days it has rained and anyone living on a precarious slope in the Bay Area knows the dangers. One of the homes that is red tagged was actually built on the same spot that a former residence in 1973 tumbled down to its final fate. How people can build on hills or on fault lines just for a view in this area boggles my mind.
As I drove by and watched neighbours help each other load belongings into U Hauls I understood the feelings that everyone had. Fifteen years ago my home had been ravaged by fire and I too sat there looking at destruction that I did not have any control over. I cannot begin to tell you how one feels when devastation hits your inner core as you watch something you loved vanish in a few fleeting hours.
It was a cold January day and the kids were flooding the rink outside when I noticed our German shepherd, Snoopy racing in from the greenhouse with a huge plume of black smoke trailing him. If there is an emergency I am not the one to send to an EMT unit as I panic easily. I screamed for someone to call 911 and we simply thought a hose spraying a steady stream of water into the basement window was enough to contain the fire.
Within five minutes the basement was engulfed with flames and I attempted to go into the greenhouse to save the birds and my ferret. Smoke quickly turns into a blackness that cannot be measured on a colour chart and within seconds I was trapped. A neighbour came in to search for me and ended up saving my life as I could no longer find my way out.
My sons and I were sent over to a neighbour’s home and we sat there, shivering and watching the firemen try to save our house. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t and the kids kept asking me if everything was going to be alright. In my irrational mind I thought things would return to normal once the fire trucks were gone and life would go back to the way it was.
The fight for our home was not over for another 18 hours. The firemen left at about 5 pm overwhelmed with the intensity of the smoke and one ended up in the hospital. They had done their best and thought the fire had been put to rest but Angelo and his father sat guard all night watching for hot spots. Sure enough at 1 am a wall in the living room went up in flames and had they not been there the house would have been a total loss.
The next day the kids and I returned to our home and I knew then and there that everything was not going to be alright. The living room hardwood floor was swollen with water and raised in many places. The charred Christmas tree and all its decorations stood against silent black walls. I stood there and realized that there was a long road ahead of us and my tears began.
My oldest son told me that he was so sorry that his monkey “Congo” had caused all of the damage. I looked at him in shock and realized he thought that the Beanie Baby he had bought at Michaels two days before was the cause of the fire. I quickly tried to change his mind but knew that he would forever blame the little stuffed monkey as the cause.
Within three days a restoration unit had been summoned by the insurance company and we were notified that because the house had been built with three foot stone walls that they were not going to tear it down. It would take an eternity of gutting the house and rebuilding the interior at a cost of $500,000.00 to make it whole again.
Watching the contents of your home that were not damaged being catalogued, wrapped and sent away in boxes by strangers is something I hope no one ever has to live through. For months I lived in the kitchen that had not been touched and baked for the 11 carpenters that worked in my home and became my surrogate family. They had smiles for me every day and helped me wipe away my tears. They became a source of laughter for my sons and the day they finally left I felt like I had lost my best friends.
No matter what has been done to your home, once it has been touched by tragedy it will never be the same. It seems to lose the original soul in the belly of its interior and because of the destruction many pieces of life are lost and will never come back.
As I sat on the floor of the restoration company looking at the items that had been salvaged and were going to be returned to my newly repaired home, I finally realized that life was not about the stuff you own.
From that day on I wanted very little and was grateful that the lives of my sons had been spared, but it was too late. Like the tree in the picture above that is fighting to remain erect against the sliding earth I had to fight too. The landslide in my mind had begun and it was slowly falling down the hill.
Text and Images: Linda Seccaspina
Part 2 next Tuesday: “How the Book Series Sweet Valley High Saved my Sanity”
Notes: The fire was caused by some field mouse that shorted a wire as he ran around in the basement ceiling.
Picture 1- Homes that are tagged and can not be lived in now as they have lost their backyards. The yellow home is red tagged and on the same spot as the original home that fell down the hill in 1973.
Picture 2:- They found out that there is a huge underground stream running under the whole neighbourhood. It was just gushing down the hill.
Picture 3:- Old servants galley kitchen that was used in the early 1900’s that was converted to a playroom. The Fig trees looked like they were dead but they came back to life a year later.
Picture4:- The main living room that was gutted from the basement up. The house was built in 1867 by Scottish stone masons.
Picture 5:- Springside Hall after renovations in Ontario, Canada
Picture 6: The trees in the way of the crumbling earth in San Pablo were at 45- 75 degree angles.
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