Small fire. Nobody hurt. Lessons learned.

Last Friday, my wife was working at home. As she sat in the garden with her drafting, she noticed that there was some smoke at the side of the house. Thinking that the neighbour was having a bonfire, she walked round to take a look. The smoke was actually coming out of the vent for our tumble drier.

With immense presence of mind, she went into the utility room, saw flames, knocked off the power, closed the doors to the house, and told our daughter (revising for her exams) to leave the house. They then called the fire brigade from a mobile phone. The fire engine arrived within five minutes — the fire station is not far away, and one of our neighbours had a dishwasher fire a couple of weeks ago, so they knew where to go!

Once the fire was out, the firemen stayed around for a little while: to check that it really was out, and to assess the damage. They were very impressed that our basic glazed kitchen door had held the fire back from the rest of the house. The glass was cracked and soot-blackened, but when it is closed there is no other evidence (unless you look closely) that there was a fire on the other side of it. That’s the first lesson learned — keep your internal doors closed as much as possible — even if they appear to be flimsy, they could buy you an extra 15-20 minutes of escape time.

After the firemen had left, my wife spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone to me and then to our insurers. As the power had been turned off and couldn’t be turned on until it had been certified safe, she could not charge her mobile phone once it ran out of power. Also, our usual house phone is a wireless one, which will not work without a constant supply of electricity. Fortunately, I have always kept a wired phone connected to our landline. Second lesson learned — the old technology still has value when the new stuff is useless.

The third lesson learned? People are great. The following day, two of our neighbours let us use their washing machines — one of them even ironed the shirts when they came out! Everyone has been very supportive — even though there was no harm done, beyond the destruction of a few white goods, some groceries and a very functional room. There is nothing broken that the insurance can’t put right. And that is a blessing.