January 14, 2014


Copyright UW CSE News.

After I told them that I smelled smoke, they told me to wait in my room.  I heard the sirens.  Crouching low in one of the front windows I watched the fire engine go by our house and turn into the driveway next door.  Filled with fear, I was almost pounding on the windowsill willing the engine to return to our house.

“Oh, we have a volunteer fire department”, they said later talking over my head.

In the early seventies, I carried a second trust deed on a wonderful old Edwardian home, the Garrison House.  Turned woods decorated the arching banisters.  One story tall turnings lined the music room creating a magical fence in the middle of the house.  Paneling filled every room.  Grateful to have a home after my divorce, I moved into one of the front parlors.  I brought with me the heavy, old blue, curtains from my Imperial Beach house.

After a year or so, I moved on to work as a caretaker in another old house.  One clear, sunny New Year morning, the phone’s insistent ringing woke me from my endless hangover. 

“Your house is burning,” someone told me.

I woke my neighbor, and he drove me over as fast as he could.  I shook all the way.  A five alarm fire, they told me.  The wind had blown in fiercely from the desert.  The house burned at an angle starting from candles under my old curtains.

I was allowed up what was left of the left stairs the next day.  Nothing seemed firm under my feet.  The stairs weren’t really there.  What I was walking on were my most beloved and treasured books which had lived in a case on the stairs now wet down to mush.  Some of my furniture survived in a far corner of the house.  The horror was unimaginable.

Tucked in bed early one night, I was warm under a quilt in my heaterless cottage.  Outside there were screams of, “Fire, Fire!”

I grabbed my daughter and we ran across the street to see the single wall cottage next door shooting flames out the windows and roof.

This time I screamed and cried, “my house, my house,” over and over

Again I heard sirens, but I couldn’t stop crying.  One nice neighbor took up my hose and wet down the side of the cottage until the fire engines arrived.  In the morning, we found the side of my cottage scorched and bubbled, and the arson squad in residence next door.

There’s always fire, it seems, in every life.


  1. Terrible! What a nightmare. I hope I never experience a house fire.

  2. A living nightmare, hope nothing like that happens to you again.

  3. How terrifying! I understand your deep fear when you smelt the smoke of that second fire. My closest experience of fire has been the grass fire coming to my back gate during our bush fires in 2009, but that was enough to make me highly tense now every time we have 40+ C temperatures and high winds. Having a fire in your house must be unbelievably frightening.

  4. Terrifying! Glad you and your child were okay. The shrub is Nandina, or heavenly bamboo. Dad loved it and planted it everywhere. Today, some think it is an invasive, however it is not its cousin, regular bamboo. Wonderful landscape plant. My birds ignore the berries. Dianne

  5. Yes, there is fire in everyone's life. I'm learning it more and more. Still the optimist, I see many of those "fires" extinguished; and if not, a rebuilding.

    However, it's best not to have to experience fires--literally or figuratively. Glad you didn't lose anything in the second fire!

    RYN days ago on my pda post: I always enjoy hearing what you have to say. And glad you like my new blog title. It actually popped into my head when I was commenting on a post of yours. I asked you a personal question and was going to close with, "Just curious." And Voila! So thanks. :)

  6. Mage, this is awful. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. I've not been hit with that horror, but it is a fear I think about.

  7. I could feel your terror. The thought of such devastation and loss evokes panic in me. I'm so sorry you experienced such horror.

  8. I am back again because I don't think I adequately expressed how much of an impact this had on your life. I'm sure that you don't get over this in a day or so. I, too, am sorry that you had to go through that.

  9. My goodness. What a huge tragedy and I know exactly how you felt the second time. When our house in Texas flooded with three feet of water from a major tropical storm, it took years and years before I could love the sound of rain on a roof once again. I can empathize.

  10. I just had to add...Fire and Ice (water) each with its own anger.

  11. We only had one real fire in my life (unless you count the time my little sister put a napkin in the Sabbath candles and then threw it into the trashcan).

    I wasn't even home, as I recounted in The Fire. But it still unbelievable scary.

  12. A healthy respect for the power and glory of fire for the good and bad it brings becomes part of your DNA if you have experienced a devastating event like this. Over 100 years ago as a child my father in law's family lost their home. Today my grown daughter makes sure there is never any obstacle in the path through her house to the door...because her father taught her the lesson he learned from his father. And so on. Your writing is vivid and terrifying.

  13. You have come through so much. You encourage me with the shared glimpses of your life past and present. Thank you, Mage.


What a delight to get a note from you. Thanks for leaving one.


Peter in front of a wall sculpture. We were invited up to Peter Knego’s home to see the latest installation.   Abstract flat ...