One year ago today at this very moment, we didn’t know if our home would be saved or devoured by the raging five-alarm fire at the apartments just feet from our property- these old houses were built so close together. We had gone to see Tomorrowland at the theater twenty minutes away when Dan’s cell phone began to vibrate non-stop. He finally stepped out to see what was going on, coming back into the theater to tell me quietly but urgently, “Come on. We have to go. Now.”
Once were out of the theater he told me our neighbors had been calling to tell us to get home right away- our home was in danger. The added level of fear that kicked in when I realized that our dogs and my clarinets were inside the house made the drive home almost unbearable. We couldn’t even get to our house because of the sea of rubberneckers and fire trucks, so we abandoned the car and ran down the alley. Please let us through – that is our home!
The scene we found was surreal – five fire trucks with water cannons and fifty firefighters were battling the blaze. We finally convinced them to let us into the house to get the dogs and my instruments to safety. We were told to stay out of the front of the house, as there was a very real concern that the apartment wall next to our home would collapse…and that would be the death Nell of our home. We took the dogs to the guest house and stood on the top deck watching, as ash and roofing tiles rained down on our decks, waiting to see if our home would be next. Dan jumped into action, finding every bottle of water and soda that we had to help the firefighters stay hydrated during their battle. Our trees that hung over the apartments were smoking and charred. What saved us? The very rainy week that we had had, leaving everything- our trees, our wooden privacy fence, our wooden decks- soaked. Had we had a typical dry summer week, we would have lost everything.
Thankfully, though the apartment dwellers lost their homes and their belongings, no one lost their lives. Our home was safe, though it smelled of the fire for weeks and our yard was covered in debris. We were left feeling compassion for the people who lost everything, and deep gratitude that our home and our animals were spared. It could have easily been such a different story.
On this Memorial Day one year later, we sat outside on our decks to enjoy the beautiful day, and to express our gratitude for the men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. We also felt gratitude that our lives were not impacted by the devastation of losing lives or our home from last year’s fire. We realize and acknowledge that things are just things and can be replaced. However, losing a home filled with memories and family history, along with the lives of much-loved animals, would have been a very different story. We are grateful that everyone survived the fire, that all of the residents were re-homed, and that Chez Gainey still stands as our beacon of love and light in Southside Birmingham.