It’s Been A Long Time

The last time I posted was December last year and so much has happened. So much. This is more of a life update than a sewing related post, but I’ll make sure to include a bit of sewing content too. I think most people who follow me on social media will know that we had a house fire on the 2nd of February this year. It wasn’t particularly bad, it was contained to the garage and the angel firies kept it that way – by some miracle it never spread into the house, although it was very close. Our house is split level, with the garage and my sewing room next to each other on that ground level, downstairs has the kitchen and lounge which were basically untouched and upstairs is bedrooms and bathrooms which needs to be gutted down to frame (including taking off the roof). Why? Smoke. I never realised the sheer amount of damage smoke can do, it’s heartbreaking. Especially smoke that comes from a garage fire. Everything that burnt was plastic or rubber or something else toxic, so the smoke is also toxic – it’s oily and sticky and corrosive, meaning that it starts to eat away at things the second it hits. Some things were gone instantly, some things we’re still losing almost five months down the track – my big 27″ iMac just died because the smoke corroded it slowly over that time.

Yes, we’re insured. Everything will be covered and I can’t even imagine going through this without that. The process is still incredibly slow. No work has started on the house yet beyond the first little flurry of cleaning within the first two weeks. All our clothes and textiles were sent away for dry cleaning. Our house sits charred and sad on our street, while we rent a cute little place about 10 minutes away.

Of course, having the sewing room next to the garage means it was hit pretty hard. It will be demolished along with the garage. We’re incredibly lucky to have amazing neighbours who acted so fast. They saved our house. I left for work at about 8am with the kids, shut the garage and that’s when hell broke loose. The fire investigators best guess is that a small metal object (likely a wiper blade) fell from a shelf in the garage and onto an old, dead car battery that was bound for the tip later in the week. It hit both terminals perfectly and caused a spark. That’s all it took. At 8:15am one neighbour saw the smoke rolling down the street and jumped into action, bashing on all our doors and yelling – which in turn alerted our other neighbours. Triple 0 had so many calls that they sent all available units from the Sunshine Coast, we had trucks come up from an hour away. Both sets of neighbours called my husband and I, it’s a call that I will never forget. My husband told them that our dog Sid was in the house, probably asleep in my sewing room. And he was. Fast asleep in the blistering, smoke filled room. Our wonderful neighbour risked his life to break in and carried him out to safety. Typing that still makes me cry. The firies arrived just after 8:20am and the fire was out by 8:30am, just before I made it home.

I’d never seen anything like that in our quiet suburban street before, there were multiple fire trucks, police cars and ambulances. People everywhere. A very kind work mate didn’t want me to drive, so had driven me home. I bolted from the car and buckled over in the street. I was shocked. Even the whole drive home, I was telling myself that it was impossible, there is nothing that could have caught fire in our house, the neighbours must have been mistaken. I talked to the police, I talked to the firies, a very kind paramedic got me out of the sun and gave me tissues and water. Everyone was talking to me but I couldn’t really absorb what they were saying. My husband arrived after what felt like forever, but in reality was only about ten minutes. There’s that gross old cliche about other halves, but god I needed him there and felt it down to my core. We were better together. We talked to the police and firies together, the media arrived and we hid behind the fire truck from them together. Slowly but surely people disappeared until it was just us, in the rain together, looking at our burnt house. We weren’t sure if we were allowed to go in, but there was no one there to stop us so we did it anyway.

It was a strange time. Almost like we’d been abandoned. The firies had told us there was ‘a bit of smoke damage’ in the house, but we were certainly not prepared for what we saw. We both ended up buckled over, sobbing in the hallway. How does that much damage happen in 15 minutes? The rooms furtherest back from the fire showed signs of heat damage, bolts in the walls and the ceilings had burned black marks into the plaster. The shadows of roof beams were printed onto the ceiling in black. The fire hadn’t even come close to these rooms but the smoke and heat had left their permanent marks.

We let ourselves mourn for a little while but then it was calls from the insurance company and people started arriving again. Builders came to board up the windows and garage and secure the house. It felt so much better when people were around, when work was getting done. Action is good, work is progress. I think that’s why I’ve felt so lost for the past couple of months. The waiting is killing us. I’ll feel so much better when actual work can start. But for now, there’s a lot of paperwork and scopes of work and approvals and back and forth about everything.

I have a little shed at our rental that is a perfect sewing room really, but I haven’t used it. It feels too far from the heart of the house and a bit lonely, so I lug my machines to the dinner table and make a mess in the centre of our space. I have no where to cut anymore, so the floor it is – so I haven’t been able to sew for the shop at all. I recently picked up some work sewing for Nerida Hansen, which has been really nice. It allows me to have that creative outlet and get paid at the same time, which is wonderful. I work at school three days a week and couldn’t have got through this without that gang of amazing people (same can be said for Brian’s workmates). We have leaned on our friends and family a lot and they have been there for us. We are lucky. It doesn’t look like it, but we are – we weren’t home when it happened, we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, we are insured and things will be replaced. Lucky.

A Friday Pattern Company Adrienne Blouse made in Isaform cotton lycra for Nerida Hansen.
PJs made in Holly Sanders french terry for Nerida Hansen.
A Mood Heather dress in Lisa Congdon and Nerida Hansen fabric.

7 thoughts on “It’s Been A Long Time

  1. Hi Katie, your experience has been such an eye opener for my husband and i. I had no idea how much damage the smoke could cause. We have always been pretty careful with fire safety generally but since your fire my husband cleaned out our garage. We had petrol for the mower and a spare gas bottle in there.
    I’m so sorry you guys are going through this. I’m so very happy Sid is ok. I dont know what else to say 🙂 I’m so glad you’re all ok but it all sucks so much too. Xxx


  2. I am so sorry you went through this. This year was certainly bad enough without extra sorrow. I hope there is much swift action, resolution, and that you will find your way to a beautiful new normal soon. Your essay, both the story and the photos was beautiful, moving, and well told. I’m glad you ended it with the beautiful, joyful clothes, and that the making of them is as much a palliative for you as the viewing of them was for me.


  3. I hope writing a post helped, even a little bit. I know it does for me. Finding the right words somehow grounds the experience more. Either way, I’m so sad that happened and happy that Sid was saved. And I hope things start chugging along soon!


  4. My 14 year old daughter had just stopped by to visit a friend when a fire like that broke out and the dog alerted one of the boys. Only about 10 minutes after I dropped her off, they they banged on the door to get out. They got the bird and the dogs out but couldn’t find the cats (They apparently escaped and then returned to be found 2 days later)
    The family was so upset that my 14 year old daughter was the one that talked to the firemen, first responders, and St. Vincent de Paul (got there before the Red Cross)…and collapsed at home later.
    They were out of the house for 15 months.
    The silver lining: They now have central air.
    Take heart from the small wins. Your other half. Your dog. Your sewing machines and happy fabric.. Your friends and neighbors.


  5. I was flooded in an old house and it’s astonishing how much damage it can do. We had to wait six months before they could start work as the house had to dry.
    It’s so hard to explain the dislocation you feel. Sending you all the good vibes for a speedy resolution to the paperwork and that you are home soon.
    Glad you’re all safe. That’s such a blessing.


  6. I am so sorry for your experience. Reading this and seing your pictures makes an impression on me. It is hard having something happen to your home and your space! Glad for all the support and resources around you, and very best of luck in the rebuilding phase.


  7. Oh Katie, I remembered you and the fire when there was one down the street from us following a freak lightning storm here at the end of June. Fires are so strange to recover from and such a difficult period for anyone, much less families with children who can’t comprehend not having their stuff anymore. Hope you can get more progress on the rebuild soon! 💜💜💜


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