Recent events in California, with the incineration of a town called Paradise, reminded me of our own close call with flames. Yes, this incident was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The Christmas we moved into our partly renovated apartment, I invited the neighbours round for aperitifs on Boxing Day evening. A number of them bought us small seasonal arrangements, in pots with candles.
Friends came round for dinner in the New Year and, to make the place look a bit more festive, I lit the candles in these arrangements which I sat on some of the remaining packing cases. We’d yet to have the flat decorated, though much of our furniture was in situ, along with the new kitchen and bathrooms.
It was before Epiphany, so the tree was still up and decorated. Against my better judgement, Richard had persuaded me to have a “real fir tree.” We had an enjoyable dinner and evening with our friends who in typical French fashion stayed chatting until the early hours. I’m not a night owl, so could barely keep my eyes open before I headed off to bed. Having tidied the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher, I asked my beloved to extinguish all of the various candles dotted around the apartment.
I’m usually asleep before he joins me in the bedroom but I must’ve been overtired and hadn’t fallen asleep. We chatted for a few minutes and both fell asleep only to be awakened by a loud crash. The bedroom is next to our lounge/diner and we could see that light was pouring onto the terrace. Our initial thought was that someone had broken in and switched on the lights.
My beloved leapt out of bed, naked, ready to do battle with the intruder. He rushed back shouting “Fire!” He flapped ineffectually at the fire with some wet towels but it had seized hold of the contents of the packing cases, all wrapped in plastic bubble wrap. It was sobering to see how quickly the fire spread and the amount of thick black smoke that was filling the flat.
We abandoned the fight and closed the doors on the fire. We scrambled into shoes and dressing gowns before he rushed downstairs to fetch our guardian (a former fireman) while I alerted our upstairs neighbour and rang the fire brigade.
Our quick thinking guardian doused the fire before the firemen arrived and created total havoc with their hoses. We were checked over for smoke inhalation before being advised to sleep somewhere else. Feeling as if we’d just lost a couple of our nine lives, we beat a hasty retreat to our newly decorated, former holiday flat for a good night’s sleep before returning next morning to survey the damage.
The window in the dining room was shattered, I think that was the crash we heard the night before. The contents of the three packing cases – luckily I had a list of everything that was in them – were carbon. A thick black greasy sludge covered all the walls of the lounge/diner – thank goodness we’d yet to decorate. The ceiling and floor were badly singed along with a couple of pieces of furniture and the Xmas tree.
My beloved’s new white, fully tiled, bathroom was also covered in black soot as he’d left the door open. Fortunately, everywhere else they were closed, mitigating the potential damage. Our decorator was scheduled to start work the following week but was delayed while he awaited for the “expertes” to opine. Fortunately, our household insurance covered all of the damage and we hadn’t lost anything that couldn’t be readily replaced. It could’ve been so much worse!
We never did find out exactly how the fire started but thereafter my beloved banned me from having lit candles in the flat.