How would your life change if your house burned down? What if you lost almost everything you owned in one afternoon? That’s what happened to Alison and her son last January. This is her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Alison. I’m a 41 year-old single mom of a 7 year-old boy living in Boulder, Colorado. I work as a massage therapist, yoga teacher, and embodiment coach. I love to spend time in outdoors and I hike and bike as often as I can. I also enjoy road trips, camping, hot springs, yoga and meditation, dancing, farmer’s markets, writing, good food and drink, and socializing with friends.
What was your house like?
After years waiting, we received approval in September 2015 to move into a small duplex that we’d always dreamed of renting. It’s located in a safe, quiet neighborhood and I put all my energy into making it beautiful. When the fire happened, we’d only been for for a few months.
How did you find out your house was on fire?
On January 14, 2016, I did some laundry and then left home to attend a few meetings and to pick up my son from school. Before leaving, I pulled my massage sheets out of the dryer and put them in a laundry basket, intending to fold them when I returned.
I returned around 4:00 pm to the sound of a smoke alarm. I could see billows of black smoke pouring out of my kitchen. In a panic, I called 911.
What was the fire department’s response?
The fire and police department both arrived within 10 minutes. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I do remember the police officers staying with me until the fire was out and the fire chief arrived. I felt that they were my advocates during that process and kept me informed and comfortable.
What did you and your son do after the firefighters left?
A friend brought us something to eat. We literally just sat in front of our charred home and cried in disbelief.
That friend invited my son and I to spend the night at her house. I never fell asleep that night; the unknown was so horrifying and unsettling and I just did not know what was ahead for me. I will always remember lying in my friend’s living room on that air mattress with my son sleeping next to me.
How much did you lose in the fire?
Between the fire and smoke damage, we lost about 90% of our belongings. We were out of our home for six weeks while it was gutted and remodeled.
Walk us through the month after the fire.
Unbeknownst to me, on the night of the fire, my friends and family worked together to gather resources and support for us. The day after the fire, a neighbor helped pack up all my damaged possessions and put them in one of his storage spaces until I had the time and energy to go through them. People filtered in and out bearing food, hugs, clothes, toys, and extra hands to help out.
That whole month was transformative. Of course, there was a lot to process emotionally but I came back to gratitude again and again. Gratitude for being alive; gratitude for the community that supported me.
Were you able to save anything? What did you lose that you miss the most?
I saved important things like pictures, some meaningful books, and a couple of pieces of furniture that I aired out and used a special solvent to remove the smell of toxic smoke.
I would say the biggest pieces that I am missing are some of my beloved juicer and, as frivolous as this sounds, my shoes! I love shoes and had some fun ones.
Do you know what caused the fire?
The fire started in my laundry basket. Little did I know when I ran out of the house to pick up my son that the laundry basket, situated in a sunny spot of my kitchen, was the perfect container to create spontaneous combustion with the residue of massage oil on the clean sheets.
You’ve had to rebuild your life from scratch in a lot of ways. Are things different this time around?
This ordeal was life-altering on so many levels and I’ll never be the same. The incredible outpouring of support I received from my community was humbling and restorative. This experience shook me to my core and people rallied around me in a way that made me feel, accepted, supported, and loved.
Now that I have a bit of distance, I realize this really impacted my appreciation for the preciousness of life. Before the fire I was more focused on the superficial, outer manifestations of myself (like my belongings). Now I’m grateful and inspired, focusing on my son and our life together.
What did you learn from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?
Appreciate the many moments of goodness in your life. Reach out to others for help when you need it; you will be surprised at the generosity of others. Get renters’ insurance! (I did not if you can believe it, but I certainly do now!)
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Alison. Do you guys have any questions for her? Have any of you experienced something similar?