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It's been a year

Today has been August 19, 2006.

One year ago was August 19, 2005. That's the day our house caught fire.

This may be a long post but will be a good bad story, so indulge me.

It was the Friday night of the first home high school football game of the season, and we were going to skip it. Instead, Shannon and I were getting ready to go out of town for the weekend when one of those summer thunder storms started. We had the car packed and were taking care of those little last minute details, and the bottom just fell out of this storm. Not being in a tremendous rush, we decided to wait for the storm to slack off before we began our trip (these types of late afternoon summer storms in south Georgia pass over pretty quickly most of the time).

Well, this storm was dropping buckets and had some pretty good thunder going on. Suddenly there was a loud BOOM! and the flash from lightning as the power went out. It sounded like someone had just fired a rifle in the next room. Shannon and I happened to both be in the hall. We both froze and looked at each other, eyes wide.

After a couple seconds of silence she said, "That was close." Her voice was slow and a little shaky from the surprise. "Really close."

Curious, we walked to the front porch, hoping maybe to see where the lightning had struck. We could see bits of wood scattered about the driveway from a pinetree just beside the house. We could also see that the transformer had been nearly completely knocked off the light pole by the street. We knew the lightning had hit somewhere, but I don't think either of us expected to see it had hit the front yard.

A short while later the rain had passed. Since the power was still out, we made sure we had turned everything in the house off. Before we left we walked across the street to tell a neighbor about the electric pole (it had knocked out power to the whole block). So we jumped in the car and headed out. This was a good forty-five minutes or an hour after the lightning had hit.

We had been on the road about fifteen or twenty minutes, just long enough to get to the next town, when my cell phone rang.

"Where are you guys?" a frantic voice blurted out. It was our next-door neighbor. "Cochran," I said. "Why?"

"I don't know how to tell you this, but your house is on fire."

Your house is on fire. I'll remember those words for a long time. Those are the type of words you ever expect to hear. Ever.

I told her we were turning around and that we'd be there as soon as possible. She told me the fire department was on the way and they'd be there for us. As I hung up the phone I realised I was about to have to explain this to the woman sitting next to me in the car.

She had been talking on her cell with her mom when I got the call, so she didn't catch all of my end of the brief conversation, but she knew something was wrong by my demeanor (that and me hitting the breaks to pull a u-turn in the middle of the highway).

Now guys - husbands - see if you're with me on this one. I was afraid I was about to break my little girl's heart. So I did the normal guy thing. I lied.

Well, only sort of. When she asked what was going on, I told her our neighbor had just called and said she *thought* our house was on fire. After she began to ask for an explanation I realised how thin a cover that was and quickly gave it up. I told her about the phone call and the fire department and she tried to tell me I didn't have to drive 95mph. I slowed down a little.

We didn't talk for a moment. I reached over and held her hand. I told her I was worried. She said, "me too."

I still vividly remember my stream of thoughts: I can't get there any faster than what I can safely get there because it's not going to help by adding a car wreck to the situation, and even if I get there, there's really nothing we'd be able to do, but I want to be there. At least if I'm there I know what's going on. I want to be there. This could be bad. I murmurred a prayer out loud.

I took nearly fifteen minutes to drive back home. And here's the thing that sat with me during that time. I didn't know if we'd pull up and there would have been a little fire with no real damage, no big deal. Or if we'd pull up the street and there would be a charred 2x4 sticking up out of the ground. Sometimes in life the question marks are tougher than the exclamation marks.

We began to talk, trying to calm each other, plan the quickest way through town back to the house, figure out what we were going to need to do. Another neighbor called saying the fire department was there. Shannon called her parents (who lived close). I called my mom (who lived closer). They all said they'd be right there.

As we turned up our street, we parked in our neighbors yard. We could see the fire trucks in front of our house and the neighborhood crowd gathered across the street. I talked with somone from the fire dept while Shannon shared hugs with a friend from across the street. I remember standing there by myself for a minute, everything only momentarily in slow motion, taking everything in, soaking up the scene; the smell, the sounds, the smoke, the people, the flames, the wet grass.

Apparently the loud BOOM! of lightning that hit the light pole and the pine tree had arched to the house or run in the power line. It caused some sort of spark in the attic and had caught in the insulation. It must have smoldered for the hour or so in between the time it hit and when we left. It flared up in the insulation and spread across the attic. Our neighbor's kid (who was part of the youth ministry) had been outside and thought we were grilling, but then noticed it was a lot of smoke for a steak (even for my cooking!). He saw the fire and they called 911.

The firemen (and woman) had cut a hole in the roof to lower a hose in so they could get closer. They got there quickly and got things under control pretty well. Most of the fire damage was contained to the attc space, but since the fire was in the insulation, they really had to drench it so it wouldn't keep burning. The water weight caused the ceiling to fall through in three of the rooms, dropping water, debris, soot, and ash all over everything.

Once the fire was out, we spent the night moving much of the undamaged stuff into a storage building, packing things up as best we could and as quickly as we could. We used flashlights when it got dark because, even once the rest of the neighborhood had power again, the electricity had to stay shut off from our house. Friends, neighbors, family all stayed for a long time helping move and pack and comfort.

It would be some months later that we would move back into that house. Because the fire had damaged so much of the roofing and ceiling, and due to smoke and water damage throughout, it was nearly completely rebuilt. It almost seemed like a brand new house when we moved back in. That event, and the months that followed had a big impact on Shannon and me. Yes, it was emotional. Yes, I've learned much from the whole ordeal. And yes, we've come through it ok. But that Friday is certainly a day that has stuck with me and no doubt will for a long time.

I've let this story sit for a year. I think maybe I needed to before I told it in this detail. In the near future I hope to share some of the lessons I've taken from the fire.

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