I know thousands of people have a 9/11 story. My story doesn’t begin on September 11, 2001, but on September 11, 2009. At 12:30 a.m., I heard my husband run to the garage door from the house, and when he opened it he yelled a fearful word—“FIRE!”
We had both been asleep for a couple of hours. Our house had a layout where you walked in on the main floor that had the living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms and then you actually went downstairs for the master bedroom and a fourth bedroom. That level was completely underground.
Jim had fallen asleep upstairs watching TV. He woke up hearing a popping noise that he thought might be an animal in the garage. We live in the country on a 10-acre farm and had problems with raccoons fighting with our farm cats and getting into things. As Jim ran to the garage, I woke up and also heard the loud pops. Jim never imagined that the garage was fully engulfed so he opened the door without thought. A blast of toxic smoke filled his lungs and the house. My car glowed an eerie orange color and flames were everywhere.
I jumped up and our two cats scurried under the bed. As I came up the stairs Jim yelled for me to call 911. We had cell phones, and didn’t have a land line because we just never used it. My cell phone was across the house in the kitchen. Jim grabbed his phone and when he dialed 911 his call went to the state patrol due to our remote location. He repeatedly gave our address and it seemed that the operator could not locate where our house was. Jim started to lead me out the front door but the flames were coming around the front of the garage and blocked that escape. I looked out through the laundry room to a back entrance onto a deck. Flames had already started to engulf the deck. We stood briefly in the entry way of our house and I had no idea what to do.
Jim grabbed my hand and led me to the window furthest from the flames. It was the dining room window which also was one of the smaller windows in the house. Jim raised his arms and smashed the window glass since the window was a crank out and would only open so far. He ripped off the screen and I grabbed a flashlight to clean the rest of the glass from the frame. As I turned to get the flashlight I could hear the fire raging in the rafters above the kitchen and see the smoke rolling across the ceiling. My throat began tighten. Jim’s voice was horse as he told me to go through the window. In the distance I could hear a lone siren coming our way.
Maybe we could just stand at the open window until the fire department could arrive.
Jim told me again to go through the window. I put my foot on an ottoman that sat there so the cats could look out and see our bird feeders. I put my hand on the window sill not realizing the large puncture wound I would receive. “I can’t do this,” I said. The window was about 6 feet above the ground and I had no idea how to make that leap. “You will do this,” Jim yelled and lifted and pushed me through the window. I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. Jim yelled at me to get out of the way so he could escape. As Jim started out the window he turned to see a vision of his deceased father in the house. His father’s “presence” helped to get Jim through the window and out of the house. Jim guided me to the front of the property toward the road and when I could go no further he went on to alert his brother and sister-in-law, who were in an adjacent house, that we had a fire. They had no idea what was going on.
At first one policeman arrived. Jim and my sister in law Jan came over to where I was sitting and suddenly the fire department and the ambulances started to arrive. They kept asking if everyone was out of the house. When Jim was on the phone with 911 we were still in the house, and I’m not sure they knew we had escaped. Jim was having problems breathing so he went in the first ambulance. The firemen jumped into action. They had arrived in eleven minutes once the alarm went off. We have a volunteer fire department so that meant they had to be paged, get to the fire station and then get to our house. I asked my sister-in-law, Jan, to make sure someone took care of the cats after the fire. I was sure they wouldn’t make it, but I didn’t want to come back and find them if I went into the house. At this point the entire garage was ablaze and it sounded like a jet plane was flying low overhead. I just couldn’t believe that this was happening. The ambulance headed to the hospital and I closed my eyes.
When he arrived at the hospital the doctors decided that they needed to put a tube down Jim’s throat to help him breathe and take him to another hospital. The doctor felt he would be OK, but he was glad that we were so close to the first hospital so Jim could be treated there first and then transferred. I waited for the doctor to come and put stitches in my hand and felt very alone. I prayed for Jim, and then just sat. Jim had saved my life.
I did have my cell phone and I called my sister in law to ask if anyone had gone in the house. I needed my glasses and I couldn’t see a thing without them. At that point two of the firemen went in the house to look for the glasses since about an hour had passed and the fire was basically contained. When they got downstairs to the master bedroom one of our cats Taiko was sitting at the bottom of the stairs meowing. Taiko doesn’t meow much but she must have known that she needed to make some noise. One fireman picked her up and the other turned to get my glasses. He remembered that Jan had said there were two cats. He looked further and found a soaking wet and unconscious Mocha on the bathroom floor. Both cats were brought outside and since both of us that were in the house were at the hospital they began medical assistance on Mocha. Once she resumed breathing they put the two cats in Jan’s car and she headed to the twenty-four-hour vet (aka, the “million dollar vet”).
At this point I need to tell you about something my mother calls Divine Appointments. The definition is a “meeting” that is God inspired and led. I feel it can be an actual meeting or just receiving information that you need. Earlier in the day we had entered the address of the twenty-four-hour vet into Jan’s GPS system since her dog was not feeling well. The dog was fine, but it was the cats that needed help and having the info entered helped get them to the vet as soon as possible. It was also a divine appointment that Jan was there to take the cats and thankfully she had a large enough limit on her credit card to prepay for their care. Jim and I don’t have kids so our animals are our kids. I still cannot believe that we all made it through the fire. The fire was ruled an accident with no criminal intent, meaning there was no arson involved. Something had sparked in the garage and it had spread to the house.
I was released from the hospital that day, and Jim eight days later. We both show physical scars from the fire. Emotionally we are both still affected by the fire nearly one year from when it occurred. There isn’t a day when I don’t think of some event that happened that night, or how different the outcome could have been. There were many divine appointments the night of the fire. Had Jim not been upstairs I feel that we would both have been overcome by smoke and perished. The firemen set a new record for arriving at a fire. Our local hospital has one of the best reputations in the state and they got Jim stable so he could go to the hospital with more advanced life saving abilities. And yes, our cats had made it too. Having them as comfort has helped us through a tough time. We have since rebuilt the house and moved back onto the farm.
I thank God daily for all the blessings in our life, large and small. We make it through each day with his love, guidance, and strength.