Last Tuesday, what started out as a lazy day off for both Andy and myself, ended with us being homeless, displaced, and in complete and utter shock.
We woke up late and made coffee. We lounged in our pajamas. Andy eventually put his workout clothes on was about to head to the gym when we heard our neighbors yelling. At first we didn't think much of it. There are a lot of families in our complex and yelling seems to be somewhat normal. But then we heard thumping and pounding. Then glass shattering. Andy and I were both like "what the hell is going on?" I grabbed my phone and wondered if we should call the police, because at that point my first instinct was that it sounded like domestic violence.
Andy went to the door to see what was going on, and as soon as he opened it black smoke started billowing in from the unit below us. The events that happened next are somewhat blurry, but basically we realized we had to get out and we had to get the cats out. We frantically ran around the apartment trying to find them, but there were no where to be found. At that point the smoke was so bad it was getting difficult to breathe and we had to leave. We left the door open in the hopes they would run out.
We saw the neighbors in the unit below us, and I remember asking if there were flames and if anyone had called 911. He said "our apartment is engulfed in flames, the fire department has been called."
Our closest fire station is only a few blocks away, but I swear, the time between that moment and when the first trucks arrived, felt never ending. Andy and I stood in the parking lot (I was still in my slippers and pajamas), and watched as the building continued to burn. There were awful, loud crashes and noises. More glass shattered. The smoke was getting thicker and blacker. And the cats were still inside.
Taken before the fire department arrived. The top window is our bedroom window.
Andy and I frantically made phone calls to our family, and as soon as the fire department (six fire engines altogether) arrived I ran around screaming that our cats were still in there. I didn't know what to do. I've never felt so helpless in my entire life. Andy and I were both shaking and crying and I eventually collapsed on the sidewalk. Andy and I talked about it later and we were both feeling the same thing during those moments - that we were going to lose everything, including the cats. I had awful images in my head of the floor collapsing and the whole building caving in.
The firefighters were able to contain the fire and put it out fairly quickly, but we still didn't have any information about the damage, or the cats. But then I saw one of our neighbors holding a cat in her arms from across the parking lot. I actually didn't think it was either of ours, but I ran over anyway. Sure enough, it was our sweet Clementine, but if I didn't know any better I would've thought she was a rabid, wild cat. She was foaming at the mouth, hissing and swiping at everyone around her, and her eyes were wide and crazed. Clearly she was in shock, but she wouldn't let anyone near her except for the woman who was holding her. She finally broke free and ran under an SUV that belonged to the fire department.
That's me wearing all gray, in front of the fire truck on the left. Clementine ran under the vehicle where the person in the bright yellow jacket is standing (photo from the Woodinville Weekly Facebook page).
While attempting to get Clementine under control so we could take her to the vet, I was still trying to communicate that our other cat, Truman, was still missing. But I couldn't get any information from anyone, and people kept saying "I'm sure he's fine, he probably escaped and is outside somewhere." I know they were trying to be kind, but until I actually knew for sure he was ok, those comments were difficult to hear.
One of the medics called animal control to assist with Clementine, but when they arrived she wouldn't have any of it. Instead she decided to crawl into the engine of the SUV. So Andy opened the hood to try and reach her from the top, while animal control was reaching into the wheel well to try and reach her from underneath. They finally managed to get her into a crate and I immediately took her to the vet.
She was treated with oxygen and a sedative. It was also discovered that one of her front left claws was completely torn out and the rest of her claws were completely shredded, so they cleaned her up and gave her antibiotics. Overall she checked out fine, though. She didn't have any respiratory distress or other major injuries.
While I was at the vet, Andy was allowed to return to the apartment briefly to grab a few things (purse and wallet, laptop, etc.). He also did a quick check for Truman but couldn't find him anywhere. When I returned from the vet, we waited in the parking lot for awhile for instruction from the fire department. Our families had arrived by that time as well, which was a great comfort. Eventually we were told that the fire inspector was soon to arrive, and once we got the all-clear we could enter the apartment again.
Neither of us had eaten anything, so we all went to Red Robin (yes, I was still in my pajamas and slippers). But of course we couldn't eat anything since all we could think about was Truman. I told Andy that I couldn't bear to go back into our apartment because I didn't want to find his little body. I just had this awful, sinking feeling that he didn't make it through the fire.
We got the call saying we could return to the apartment to get our things, so we went back to face the moment of truth.
The entryway of the unit below us, where the fire started.
Our unit was not burned, and neither were any of the other units in our building. Surprisingly, there was no structural damage either. We had extensive smoke damage. The couple in this unit literally lost everything.
We packed up all of our clothes and anything we would need immediately, all while searching for Truman. We didn't find him in any of his usual hiding places - deep in the closet, under the couch, etc. As we continued to pack, Andy's mom kept saying she was hearing meows. So she grabbed a flashlight and looked under the bed. And there he was. Bright kitty eyes blinking back at her. Yep, blinking. He was alive!
We had everyone leave the room and closed the bedroom door. Andy pulled up the mattress and Truman crawled out to me. I grabbed him and squeezed him tighter than I've squeezed anything in my entire life. I took him down to my mum's car and had one of our neighbors bring some water. He was breathing heavily and was terrified, but didn't seem to be in too bad of shape. I brought him to the vet right away. His oxygen levels were normal and everything else checked out, except for the fact that he was terrified. His little heart was beating so fast and his meow was a bit raspy, but the vet was not overly concerned. He stayed at the vet with Clementine for the next several hours.
We got our clothes out (which all reeked of smoke) and a few other things, and headed to Andy's mom's house. The rest of last week consisted of packing everything up, throwing away a lot of stuff, and moving everything out. No one will be able to occupy the building for a few months - even with all the windows open, we had to wear masks and gloves, and our eyes burned the whole time - so we actually decided to break our lease and cut our ties (we were able to do that without penalty, of course). We turned in our keys on Monday.
This is how we left our home of the past four years:
We'll be living with Andy's mom for the time being. She has plenty of space and is more than happy to have us (we also insisted on paying a small amount of rent to ease the burden on her). We have talked about moving for awhile, and this has given us a chance to start fresh, even though we would've preferred different circumstances! So we'll stay here through the summer and take some time to find a place to live that will be really good for us.
And in case you were wondering, the cause of the fire was likely electrical. The couple below us have a very old motorized hospital bed (they are both very obese) and they said the motor started smoking.
Everyone got out of the building and no one was hurt.
I found out later that Clementine was found unconscious in our apartment and was rescued by a firefighter. We're trying to find that wonderful man!
The kitties are doing wonderfully now and they love Andy's mom's house.
Andy and I are still processing. We're incredibly lucky that we didn't lose everything and that we have such an incredible support system.