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It's Simple - Fire Belongs in the Fireplace

I just feel I have to post this, especially after the horrific fire in Stamford, CT, only minutes from our office, on Christmas day this past week.

This terrible tragedy, in which five family members perished, is now being blamed on embers from the fireplace. When I first heard this, I tried to imagine how embers in a fireplace could cause such an inferno to erupt. I could only think of two possibilities: either the firebox have failed in the fireplace itself, or someone had mishandled the embers. Sadly, my second guess seems to be the right one.

According to reports from fire investigators, preliminarily, ashes and embers were removed from the fireplace, placed in a bag, and set in or near a mud room in the house. It is heartbreaking. Anyone who is familiar with the workings of a fireplace knows that THAT is where the fire belongs. And embers are still fire, albeit hidden, smoldering within a charred piece of wood, just waiting for the opportunity to light up again.

Photos from  Northern Suburb News

This story has saddened our entire community here in Pound Ridge, New York. Personally, I simply can’t believe this has happened again. I say that because my family has personal experience with just such a situation.

A number of years ago  my father owned a ski condo in Windham, NY. It was in the middle of a row of units, a wood frame structure in the snowy woods that we loved to escape to when we could for relaxing weekends or holidays. As time went on, and we all became busy with our lives, he started to rent it out, now and then, to folks who enjoyed the skiing on the nearby mountain. One such family from Brooklyn rented it and ended up proving that they had little or no experience with a fireplace. Evidently, after having a lovely fire in the hearth one night, someone decided that they needed to shovel out the red hot embers from the fireplace. They were placed in a bag, then into a plastic garbage can outside, which was then set back into its normal place, right next to the outer wall of the building. Some time in the night the renters were running out for their lives as fire consumed the downstairs bathroom, the upstairs bathroom above it and out the roof. We lost a third of the unit. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. To this day I cannot fathom what would seem logical about the actions that lead up to this fire.

And if you think this is an isolated incident, it’s not. The next year my husband and I arrived late one night to stay in the now-repaired unit. We were tired, but did notice before we went to bed that the place seemed to be a mess, with dirt all over the counter. Blaming the last family members who had stayed, we resolved to sleep and clean in the morning. When we awoke the next day, we realized that the entire inside of the unit was covered with a film of soot. After what had happened the year before, I was frantic, but realized there was no sign of fire in our unit.

We cleaned up and, confused, exited to head out for the day, at which time my husband told me to come look at the unit on the end of the line of townhouses. It was almost completely gone, burned by fire. Astonishingly, we came to find out that the very same scenario had occurred, with renters removing embers and setting the place on fire. In this instance, though, a pregnant woman almost did not make it out. After that, all of the owners invested in metal garbage cans, and we posted a notice on the hearth with detailed instructions for all future renters.

Ok, I am a city girl at heart. I was born in NYC, but I’ve lived in a house with a fireplace since I was 9 years old. Still, I cannot understand why someone would work to remove hot, burning ash or pieces of wood from a place that is specifically built for it. It can be cleaned down the road, when all the contents are cooled and the heat completely dissipated. Nobody will fault you for having a dirty fireplace. Just leave it to burn down where it belongs and where it is safe.

My heart goes out to this couple for all they have lost. I’m not sure I could survive it myself and there are no words befitting the situation. If it is even possible, may they find peace one day.

Be safe.

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Pound Ridge, NY 10576