I remember the day only too well. It was one of those crisp afternoons that early January brings to this part of Maryland. I had just arrived home from work for the day, trying to spend some use-or-lose annual leave that would run out at the end of the week. Nicki and I were just getting ready to go shopping at the grocery store; we were on our way toward the front door when she stopped, looked around inquiringly, and asked me, "Do you smell anything burning?" I opened the front door, and just across the courtyard black smoke was pouring out from around the next-door neighbor's front door.
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Date: Tue, 3 Jan 1995 21:15:06 0500 (EST)
E-mail to: FanFriends Distribution List
From: Richard Lynch
Not sure if this is the best way of passing on some news, but it's probably one of the quickest. About six hours ago, today (Jan. 3rd), there was a fire in the townhome next door to us. We smelled the smoke before we saw it billowing out from under the front door of the neighbor's place (10 feet across the small courtyard, facing our front door). The fire departments (several of them) arrived pretty quickly, but the neighbor's place was a total loss.
In the process of putting out the fire, our home was severely damaged. The fire brigades had to chop open roofs, break down firewalls, etc. to make sure the fire did not spread.
I guess I should say that nobody was hurt. I was on annual leave today, and Nicki, I, and the two cats got out without any harm at all. Apparently nobody in any of the townhouses damaged was hurt, either. The guy and his girlfriend who lived in the one that burned out had just left for shopping, and returned about ten minutes after the brigades arrived.
The fire marshall let me back in our home, briefly. It was pretty discouraging. Ceilings and walls were down in all rooms. Don't know if the computers are damaged. I couldn't find the Hugo Awards at first, but they had apparently been moved (by the firemen) away from the fireplace mantle where they had resided. I saw where they were before I left, and I think they are ok. Don't know if any of the back issues of MIMOSA we have left survived, including the extras from M16 that we mailed only 2 weeks ago.
We're staying in a hotel now (the Holiday Inn in Gaithersburg). We are down to the clothes on our back for tonight, at least. I reek of wood smoke, and have two meetings I can't cancel out of tomorrow *sigh*. It will be several weeks, perhaps months, before we can return home to live. Insurance will probably handle everything, but I expect there might be some things that we won't be able to replace, fanzines and the like among them.
Oh well, life goes on...
Best regards for the new year for everyone,
from Richard and Nicki Lynch
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It was a terrible fire. Three fire companies were called in, and it took over four hours to put it out. The townhouse where the fire started was totally destroyed, and the next day, a large crane and oversized dumpters were brought in to remove all the debris. It turned out that there had been one casualty in the fire. A large, friendly black Labrador Retriever named 'Bear' who lived in the neighbors' townhouse had no escape when the fire started. His remains were never found.
We were allowed in our home the next day, and it was pretty discouraging. There was fire damage in the attic, on the deck, and in an upstairs bedroom. Everything in the house had smoke and/or water damage. Amazingly, relatively little had actually burned, but every window had been smashed, many of the walls had been chopped open to look for fire, and wood char and assorted debris from the ceiling and walls were everywhere.
Interestingly enough, many things that you would think might be damaged in a fire were not. The fireplace mantle, directly on the other side of the firewall from where the fire next door started, was mostly cleared off by the firefighters, but the glass unicorn we got in 1986 while being Fan Guests at Rivercon was still there untouched. Likewise, the framed Hugo Award nomination certificates and artwork over and near the fireplace (including the original watercolor cover of KAPA 61, by Naomi Fisher, that celebrated the 1992 Hugo Award) were unharmed.
On the other hand, just about everything in the second bedroom, including dozens of books, was heavily damaged or destroyed. We found most of my stuffed animal collection, which was formerly on a shelf that now no longer exists; they were all wet and very dirty, and the clothes restoration expert wouldn't take them. So I retrieved them, dried them out, and washed their surfaces. They now look somewhat better, but the Coca-Cola polar bear will never be white again.
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Date: Wed, 4 Jan 1995 15:36:05 0500 (EST)
From: Richard Lynch
Subject: Fire update
Well, it was worse than what I had thought. By light of day (this morning, when I was able to enter our home again) I saw that the fire had indeed gotten in. The spare upstairs bedroom was partially destroyed, as was the outside deck. Where the firemen had cut through the roof and ceiling upstairs, I could see that the fire had been active in the attic area, and had been there (5 feet above my head) while we were busily trying to corral the two cats and get them into their animal carriers. One of the fire investigators told me that the fire had probably been active in the attic even before we had first smelled the wood smoke.
On the other hand, many things I had thought might be destroyed came through it just fine, including the three Hugos (soiled and need of cleaning, but otherwise looking ok), all the back issues if MIMOSA (they were on shelving in the basement, on the side of the room away from where the fire was), most of the clothes (they all need cleaning and dry cleaning), and the computer (at least, I hope so -- the firemen moved it to the interior bathroom -- from some quirk of fate, only the bathrooms came through it all undamaged).
Insurance is covering the entire loss, and is also covering expenses we have with temporary housing and the like. It will be at least two months before we can return there.
...from Richard (& Nicki) Lynch
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We stayed in a hotel for about a week, then moved into a two-bedroom apartment, a fourth-floor walk-up. A contractor that specializes in restoration of fire damaged homes, hired through the insurance company, was put in charge of everything that needed to be done -- rebuilding the house, cleaning the clothes, restoring the computers, etc. It turned out that the cause of the fire was a faulty fireplace in the townhome that was destroyed. However, the people living there had not had a fire in the fireplace that day. That, in itself, is a bit scary, since all other townhomes in the subdivision have that same fireplace, installed exactly the same way.
It will be a while yet before we can recover from this. What was originally expected to be a two month disruption has become well over half a year. Reconstruction on our townhouse has been very slow, due in part because, until very recently, no construction had started on the next-door townhouse that was destroyed. Much of its structure had to be rebuilt before the firewall between the two homes can be replaced. This is just now happening as of this writing.
Meanwhile, normalcy has returned, to a certain extent. Things have settled pretty much into a routine, and we hope that the worst is behind us. Looking back at events, from some nine months distance, it seems like a bad dream. It's still hard to believe that it really happened...
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Date: Sun, 8 Jan 1995 17:38:48 0500 (EST)
From: Richard Lynch
Subject: Fire update no. 2
It's been only five days, now, since the fire, but it seems like it happened a lifetime ago. Since my last e-mail update on the 4th, everything that was worth saving has been packed and removed from our home. All that remains needs to be documented (by me and Nicki) for insurance purposes. There are lots of books, including software manuals, that can't be saved. A TV and VCR are goners. There will be some things that can't be replaced, including souvenirs from various trips and photographs.
There was TV news coverage of the fire, by the way. Both Nicki and I were interviewed, though I can't say we were very coherent (thank goodness for good videotape editors!). Part of the tape footage showed firemen standing on a wooden deck, fighting the fire as the flames worked their way up the back of a townhouse. Turns out it was our deck they were on, and they were fighting (successfully!) to save our home. (They had given up on the other home.) It was a near thing. I'd previously written that the roof timbers in the attic were burned the entire length of the attic. The floor joists between our downstairs and upstairs had caught fire, too. I figure that we were within about 10 minutes of losing everything.
Anyway, since my first e-mail report of this mishap, Nicki and I have received *much* support, in terms of e-mailed messages, phone calls, and other acts of friendship. We are truly grateful. We will not forget.
Title illustration by Sheryl Birkhead