Our deaf girl Annabelle after the fire. You can see she is covered in soot.
It was this past Thursday around 5 p.m., our cats survived a house fire. The fire started from a stove we don't even use and our smoke detector didn't go off.
My daughter Laura was next door when the fire started and I was in bed asleep after pulling a sixteen hour shift at work. She came into my bedroom screaming "FIRE".
It's a strange feeling to be awakened in a sun-lit bedroom and walk into a room pitch black with smoke. My first thought was "what time is it?" I wandered into the kitchen where Laura was throwing water on the flames. There was a tiny bit of fire under the trash can she was using for something and I was able to smother it.
Laura was in a panic screaming for me to call the fire department. The fire was already out and I knew if I called the fire department, we'd have water damage on top of smoke damage. The fire department would never have allowed us back in to save the cats.
I'm surprised I stayed calm. I told Laura we needed to get the cats out. She already had one in her arms, but I can't remember which cat was the first to get out. I threw the first cat in the car I drive every day.
Next came Sealy, who was under the bathroom sink in a cabinet where he'd been for several days still recovering from his fan blade injury. His story is at Treating a Cat with a Car Fan Blade Injury. I do remember he was the second to get out. Then came Misty, since she's our senior girl.
I saw our neighbor's son outside as I was throwing Misty in the car and called out to him for help. He came, along with two other neighbors and we started pulling whoever we could find. It was still pitch black in the house.
Sometime in the middle of all of this our next door neighbor joined in the rescue. We were able to get 22 out of 24 cats out of the house. Laura was in and out of the smoke for over an hour.
Several of the cats were hiding under the beds and under the chair in my bedroom where my dogs take turns sleeping. Furby, Midnight and Cassie were among the last to be rescued. Miss Kitty never made it out. We found her three hours later hiding behind the washer. She was unharmed, but has since become a bed buddy to me again. Furby has turned into a lap cat. We don't know whether Furby is worried about us or worried about himself.
Renny, our feral, never made it out either. He'd been in my bedroom where there was little smoke and he ran from me when I tried to catch him. He looked unscathed by the ordeal so I let him stay. By this time the windows were all opened and the smoke clearing out.
It was really scary doing a mental count in my head. First I was missing Sammy, but he had been in my car the whole time. By the time we realized Miss Kitty wasn't among the cats in either car, it had become too dangerous to go back inside.
When we ran out of room in the car I drive, we began throwing the cats in a car I plan to put back on the road one of these days. I still can't believe that 22 cats and 2 small dogs didn't get into any type of disagreement while waiting the three hours in the car until it was safe to go back inside.
Tom, Gizzy, Lucky and Garfield all escaped as they were being carried by the neighbors. We were able to round them all back up later that night. Tom was only loose for an hour before Laura found him and put him in my car.
At first we thought we'd lost electricity. We were able to get 75% of it back on. We lost several kitchen appliances and the kitchen and living room were covered in black soot. All of it is fairly well clean except for the ceilings. Laura has worked around the clock getting things back in order.
Laura and I both have had to use a nebulizer for breathing treatments. She's coughing up black soot and I'm blowing it out of my nose. The cats don't appear to have suffered any physically, but they've definitely been affected emotionally.
Furby, who isn't a lap cat, is now laying in my lap more than ususal. Annabelle, our deaf cat, has been lax in following the hand signals we use to call her to us. She stares right through us right now. Sealy, our injured boy, acts as though nothing happened.
My friends have helped more than I ever believed possible by sending donations to replace the appliances. Without them we'd only have a single electric skillet to cook with. I was able to purchased a large toaster oven and a double hot plate burner. Also spent over $100 in cleaning supplies. It will take a few weeks to get the ceiling clean.
I'm thankful we got out and that we were able to get the cats out. While I was at Wal-Mart, I ran into another rescuer I know. He and his wife feed 80 feral cats and we stood around talking about the fire. They couldn't believe we risked our lives to go back inside for our cats. I never though of it that way until they mentioned it. There was no way we could have let them die. It would have been different with a fire. We just kept taking turns going into the smoke and coming out with the cats.
My theory was if I passed out, there were plenty of neighbors around to drag me outside. I still don't know how Laura stayed inside so long hunting for the cats.
Readers, whatever you think you'd do in a situation like this goes out the window once it actually happens. You can have all the drills you want. When you're faced with a pitch black room and the shock and disorientation, well, things change. You see in the movies how people will take a deep breath and rush back into a burning building to save the day. In reality that breath isn't there because your breathing is shallow from inhaling so much smoke. A person who thinks they have a few minutes of breath still inside them may find they can only hold their breath for fifteen seconds. It's scary.
I'd always said if there ever were a fire to just throw all the cats outside and get out. And yes, we were "throwing" them into the cars. There was no time to lose figuring how who would get along with whom.
Our big dogs went outside in our back yard with no problem getting them out. Our husky mix escape artist, Cody, escaped the fence and was running around outside saying hello to everyone. My baby Dreyfuss, who is a boxer with lung cancer, waited patiently on the top of the back porch.
Our small dogs, MuMu Mutt and Chico were put one in each car. I'm not sure who carried Chico, as he's heavy to be such a small dog.
Laura and I worked alone to bring the cats back inside. It was already dark and we had to use a cat carrier. I sat in the car and rolled the window down and handed them out to her one at a time. By the time she'd made more than 20 trips up the front steps she could hardly move.
I made a late night visit to Wal-Mart that night to purchase cleaning supplies. I was so exhausted, the young man who rang up my purchases called for someone to run the register and he helped load the car. Laura and I worked until around 4 a.m. before giving up.
Then it happened.....Darla, our shih-tzu girl, went into labor at 5 a.m. and delivered six puppies. We'd been waiting for days for her to have her babies. Darla was the first dog carried out because of her condition.
We're having a tough time getting the cats clean. Our white cats were gray/black after the fire. I purchased some cat shampoo and some waterless cat shampoo. I can tell everyone from experience that these do NOT work to remove soot. I bought a bottle of Dawn dish detergent, which is used to bathe wildlife caught in oil spills. The Dawn did the trick. Of course the cats aren't too happy with having to take two baths.
This whole event has turned Laura into my mother. She says she'll never own another stove in her life. I casually mentioned a clothes dryer can easily catch on fire. We never run the dryer unless someone is home. At night Laura goes around unplugging EVERYTHING. I've purchase two expensive smoke detectors and I get the feeling I'll be adding to that collection. My mother had seven in her house. I always considered mama a bit paranoid. Now I'm not so sure.
Did we do the right thing going back in for our cats? I didn't think of a single possession I wanted to save. Only our pets. Has this happened to any of you? I didn't consider the risk to us until it was mostly over. All I knew was the cats were inside, they were terrified and they needed us. Laura and I are two crazy cat ladies. I guess this experience is proof of that.