The Wrights lost almost everything in the fire.
It’s cold for the second day of April and I’m glad to be indoors. We just finished a fine supper and decided to retire early. My wife, Terry, lowers me into our hot tub with our battery-powered lift and I lean back in the water. Man, I love this cozy heat at the end of the day. Like most people with spinal cord injuries, I am often cold by the time bedtime rolls around.
After making sure I’m safe, Terry stands up. “I heard something fall in the garage,” she says. “I’ll be right back.”
“OK,” I say, looking forward to my 15-minute soak. Life is good.
A few seconds later, she runs back into the room, terrified. “The garage is on fire — we need to get out!” she yells.
“What? Get me out of here!” I say. She is already hitting the up button, but it’s painfully slow.
“How bad?” I ask, trying to get a feel for the situation.
“It’s huge. We have to run now,” she says, panicked.
“Put me in my chair, let’s go!”
Terry’s already on it. She swings me past the bed with our ceiling-track lift, over to my chair, and lowers me into it. The lift is soooo slow. She grabs a blanket off the bed and throws it on me — no time for clothes. Then she dials 911 and hands me the phone as we head for the door. I talk to the operator as we speed for the exit.
“We need to go out the front, the other side is engulfed,” she says.
As we open the front door, Natasha, a friend’s niece, is standing there. She saw the flames from the nearby highway and, concerned for our safety, pulled into our yard. She sees me look around the corner to the west and says, “You can’t go that way, the fire’s too big.”
I stare down the ramp to the back yard at the huge pile of snow blocking our way. Not good.
Terry runs in to get another blanket, and grabs her laptop and our deceased son’s urn. I wheel down the ramp and see the enormity of the fire. Flames and smoke are billowing hundreds of feet into the air. Unbeknownst to me, my buddy Dave sends a picture of the smoke plume from his front yard, 30 miles away!
I hit the end of the ramp. Terry and Natasha try to push me through the snow, but it’s too deep. We’re stuck.
“Now what are we going to do?” one of them asks.
“You’ll have to drag me away from the fire through the snow,” I say. Then, trying to reassure them, I add, “It’ll be OK.”
Luckily, a couple of teenage girls who saw the fire from the highway come to offer their help. The four lift me out of my chair, carrying and dragging me through the snow and away from danger. Natasha pulls her 4×4 truck up to the house, the ladies somehow lift me into the back seat and we drive a safe distance away.
“How’s my van?” I ask.
We lost nearly everything we had. The house, garage and all their contents were destroyed. Terry was in her pajamas in bare feet, and it was 32 degrees out, so she ended up with frostbite.
At first, we missed the necessities. We had no medical supplies, no clothes, no toothbrush, no wheelchair charger … on and on. Going from having our world set up the way we want it to losing almost everything within a few minutes was very humbling.
One day we were thinking of target shooting, then realized there are no guns, no gun rack and no trigger-puller. We thought of fishing, then realized there were no poles or hooks. The lawnmower survived but we realized my cuffs to drive it are gone, as is the rail to lift me onto it. Likewise, crossbows, kites, cameras, 4×4 wheelchair … you get the idea. And of course, Terry lost all of her hobbies, keepsakes from the kids, pictures, jewelry, clothes, not to mention the renovations she did to make our life so comfortable.
The Long Return
We are slowly getting back to life nearly four months later. We made another motorhome accessible and are camping at the farm, awaiting the rebuild. My buddy Dave adapted a couple of drone radios so I can get back in the air to enjoy one of my favorite hobbies. Also, I now have a 3D printer to rebuild adaptations and a computer to return to writing and bookkeeping. Fortunately, we subscribe to an online computer backup system so we have our records and most of our pictures and videos.
We’ve been told that we hit the “reset button,” and now get a chance to start over. So how has this affected my outdoor adventures? I’m reminded to appreciate everything. It is now summertime and nice outside. I really appreciate walking our dog, Ginger (yes, she survived!). I also appreciate sitting on the local nature trail and calling chickadees with a phone app. I love watching for wildlife and smelling the grass after a rain, all the while giving thanks that Terry, Ginger and myself got out of the fire and will live to experience more adventure. My adventures will restart slowly, but most enjoyably.
• Every day is a gift and material items are temporary, so take nothing for granted.
• People are good in this world. Terry, Natasha (our new family member) and the two teenagers who stopped are real heroes. They turned a life-threatening situation into one where the only casualty is stuff — and we can get or build more stuff.
• We live in a wonderful place. The outpouring from our community, friends and strangers has been absolutely overwhelming. We feel truly blessed and will focus on supporting our community, as they are the ones who have our backs when we need it.
• Back up your computer and pictures online.
• Keep all exits clear and have multiple exits.
• Don’t charge batteries indoors unattended. An unattended lithium-ion polymer battery charging in the garage is the likely fire culprit.