It was a typical morning until the crackling noise.
Maybe a little more rushed than some, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Breakfast had been gulped down, Georgia-Ball had been played, and it was 7:30...just about time to go to work. Eva was going to head out on my heels and run some errands, and so, following the routine to the letter, I put the kitchen garbage can on the stove, out of reach of Mr. Tux.
Don't get ahead of me, now.
So, as I was saying, I put the plastic garbage can on the stove, the way I have done literally thousands of times before. I came out to sit with Eva for a couple of minutes--7:40 is my cut-off time if I want to get to work for 8, and every minute with Eva counts, you know? We're sitting there talking about something or other to do with the upcoming day, when we heard a riffling, ruffling crackle coming from the kitchen. It sounded like a fireplace, except fireplaces are nice soothing things. When a fire is in a place that is not a fire's place, it doesn't sound soothing at all. It sounds ominous.
Out I go to the kitchen to discover -- surprise! -- a fire. The garbage can was surrounded by flames, and the smoke! The amount of smoke was...
Have you ever read Watership Down? Wonderful book, highly, highly recommended. Richard Adams creates a whole rabbit-world, and makes you care about the rabbits in it. He gives them a language, and one of the words in the rabbit language is tharn. A rabbit goes tharn when a predator approaches, whether that predator be a cat, a dog, or a car. In fright there are supposed to be two responses: fight or flight. Then there's the response of rabbits and Kens: paralyzed, frozen. Tharn.
Eva does not go tharn. Ever. I announced 'it's a fire' and proceeded to turn into a useless block of uselessness. Wait, that's not redundant enough. My uselessness was so useless that when Eva told me to open the doors and the windows, at first I couldn't. You open doors by punching holes in them, right? Or do you lift them, twist them, stare at them and think about fires? I couldn't seem to remember. Eva, meanwhile, remembered the fire extinguisher next to the stove, and moreover, she remembered how to use it. How she even managed to find the goddamned thing through the thick, billowing smoke is beyond me. But then, at that point, everything was beyond me. Without a wasted movement or moment, Eva has found the fire extinguisher. Fwwooosh.
Mid-fwwooosh, the smoke detector finally goes off. It's probably been thirty seconds since I was seated on the couch talking to my wife about mundane quotidian things that did not involve smoke or fire trucks or anything of that nature. It feels like thirty forevers. We have Direct Detect, which means when our smoke detector goes off, the fire department is notified automatically. By the time they called to ask if it was a false alarm, the fire was out. We went outside because the air was completely unbreathable on the main floor of our house, and visibility was next to nil. Eva told the fire department that it was not a false alarm, but that the fire was out.
What is the collective noun for a group of firetrucks? Oh, yeah, that's it...an embarrassment of firetrucks parades down our street and sets up the shame-shop all around our house. This is a particularly large embarrassment of firetrucks...I count five. No sirens, thank goodness for small mercies, but enough lights to thoroughly illuminate the guy who put the plastic garbage can directly on the stove element and wedged it good and tight, somehow (he notes in his weak, weak defence) for the first time EVER managing to jiggle the element on in the process.
Tux and Peach are in the car with me, because the firemen have set up shop in our house with giant fans and are blowing the smoke out. We do not know if Mooch and Bubbles have blown out with the smoke. We do not know when we will be able to get in to our house again, because the carbon monoxide and cyanide gas readings are too high. I know two things: one, I am late for work, and two, everyone's going to laugh at me when I get there. Deservedly, of course, but there's a part of me that will beat myself up about this for who knows how long to come. Once again I owe my wife for pulling my ass out of the fire, this time literally.
Several blasts of mega-fan later, we're given the all clear.
I find Mooch before I go to work. Perhaps fittingly, he's downstairs, in the fireplace. Bubbles appears a little later in the day from somewhere, and so we're all present and accounted for, unhurt and with very little damage--just a hell of a mess from fire extinguisher goop and an unusable element on our stove.
We are very, very lucky. I have learned some things from this experience. Besides the obvious (don't put plastic garbage cans on stoves) I have learned that a very small amount of flammable material can produce a hellacious amount of smoke. About half of one side of the garbage can burned away. That was enough to fill the house with smoke to the point that you almost couldn't see. I can now just begin to appreciate how in a REAL fire, people lose their sense of direction and crawl deeper into the house in an effort to escape.
We have also learned the value of a fire extinguisher. In all seriousness, dear reader, if you don't have one in your kitchen...get one. Nobody plans to set their kitchen on fire...as I say, I have put that garbage can on that stove countless times without incident. You may never need to use it, but if you ever do you'll be bloody glad you have it to use.