In the Line of Fire

Crazy clouds coming in for the second, less-damaging round of storms on July 18, 2012. I was loading up my daughter’s sailboat on a trailer when these clouds showed up over the harbor.

One minute it was sunny, hot and humid. The next, dark clouds, buckets of hail and thunder and lightning.

It’s been that kind of summer around the country.  Whenever I’ve heard stories of storms downing trees, cutting off electricity, flooding basements, making all sorts of mayhem, I’ve felt each person’s pain. From a distance, though, it never feels the same as it does when it’s in your own backyard.

Which it was. On Wednesday. For me.

The first crack of lightning followed immediately by a blast of thunder was a warning. Like many of you, after I see lightning, I begin to count. The number of counts it takes until the thunder hits is supposed to be how far away the lightning is from me, in terms of miles. At least that’s what I’ve always been told.

That first crack of lightning came and I counted to one. Actually, I didn’t even get to one. That had never happened before. I looked at the dog and he agreed. That was damn close. Time to hunker down in a mother-doggie cuddle.

The hail pounded on our deck as dog and I gazed into our back yard through the glass doors, from our protected spot on the kitchen floor. But that didn’t last.

Another flash of lightning, simultaneous thunder, crash, bang, vibrating house, shaking dog, and the house alarm begins to honk, loudly, in quick, rhythmic blasts.

First thoughts: We’ve been hit. Oh no! Alarm is loud. Where’s the fire? Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!

Second thoughts: Calm down. I’m overreacting. It didn’t hit us, just close enough that it activated the alarm system. Don’t be such a wuss. Don’t call the hubby, even though he’s only ten minutes away and could come home and take some of the burden off of me.

Third thoughts: Bzzzzz.

All this thinking has taken mere seconds. I jump to my feet. Do a quick search for smoke. Go to turn off the alarm.

It won’t turn off. Why hasn’t the alarm company called us? They always call immediately after the alarm is set off. Yes, it’s happened a few times. Once by the dog; once by a teenager who discovered how scary it is to have two firetrucks pull up to your house and fire fighters with axes rush your door.

I panic. I truly don’t know what to do. Call the alarm company? The fire station? Take the dog and run for the neighbors’ house? Pray.

I call the hubby. I’m shaking. I’m feeling foolish that I have no idea what is the best plan of action. I tell him it felt like the house was struck by lightning. The alarm is shouting in the background. He asks a few questions but my blank stare answers, which he miraculously can see through the phone, convinces him to head straight home, after warning me to go outside and check if there is fire on the roof or smoke coming from anywhere. Was I sure that lightning actually hit us? We both asked me that question. My answer: Nope. Not sure.

By the time he got home, the hail had stopped and the rain had slowed down. There wasn’t any obvious smoke or fire. Hopefully it wasn’t smoldering in the walls. Hubby goes first to turn off the alarm. Doesn’t work. Tries a few different things to turn it off. Still honk, honk, honk.

Meanwhile, we’ve discovered that our phones are dead. Our internet is out. And a couple of neighbors are standing behind the fence in our backyard, pointing up at a tree that we’ve been talking about taking down for two years. But haven’t. Obviously.

Hubby deactivates the alarm by disconnecting the system. Tries to call the alarm company. No answer.

We go out to see what the neighbors are doing. The backside of the tree in question is stripped at the top, clearly a direct hit by lightning. On our side of the tree, by the base, a huge hunk of roots and bark is missing and in place a hole and melted bark. Yes. Melted. A foot away, on the ground, another hole, this time an exposed root with two burned out wires from our sprinkler system hugging it. We walk back toward the house, on the deck, and notice a big dirty splotch on the outside wall and below it, the root chunk that was missing from the tree.

So the lightning struck the top of the tree, shot through it and at the bottom, pushed out a large chunk of bark and root, shot it across the deck until the house stopped it, and it fell to the ground.

But what about the burnt out wires?

Hubby does some checking. In our garage, far from the site of the hit, the sprinkler control box is blown up. Parts on the ground. Transformer melted.

Still no obvious sign of fire. Thank God.

In the end, it was a huge inconvenience and will end up being a pretty considerable expense to remove the tree, replace the sprinkler system, replace the phone that blew out, possibly replace the alarm system, and fix the now brown, backyard lawn. But nobody was hurt. The house is still standing. We were damn lucky.

As we get back to normal life, I feel like if we are not so lucky next time, whatever unanticipated natural disaster strikes next, that I need to do something, learn from this, so that in a similar situation, I can put a plan in motion immediately to limit any damage and to keep myself, my family, and my dog safe.

But how does one prepare themselves for knowing how to respond in emergency situations? Especially a person for whom such behavior isn’t in the least bit instinctual (ME)?

There is a part of me that believes it can handle anything life throws my way. That confidence has been shaken. I want to feel that way again, but I’m not sure how to make that happen. Any suggestions?




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23 thoughts on “In the Line of Fire

  1. Wow, Sara – what an ordeal! So glad you and your family are o.k. and your house came out of that relatively unscathed.

    As far as gaining back your previous level of confidence, there are no quick fixes for that as you probably know. That said, remind yourself that you DID handle the situation and then think back on all of the other numerous times you handled other situations. I’m sure there are hundreds and hundreds of them. You can’t be a parent and not have a cache of those lying around in your psyche. Also, I think it’s important to keep in mind that life is unpredictable and we are all doing the best we can at any given moment. Can we learn from those moments and do it better/differently the next time? Certainly. That’s what growing is all about and sometimes it’s painful and sometimes it’s amazingly wonderful. You’ll get back to that confidence level – or possibly a bit higher – for having lived through and handled this situation. I’m sure of it.

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I suppose that I know deep down that having managed through this ultimately will help me get back to me. The shock of how quickly things happen and how often we cannot predict what will happen is sometimes so big that it is hard for me to see into the future. But when I look back, there are more difficult ordeals that I have survived and come through stronger. Right now I’m a little too close but tomorrow I will be another day into the future. Thanks again.

  2. Oh my gosh, Sara! Glad you and the pup are okay.

    As far as preparing yourself for emergencies.. I think the best way to go is to practice a plan until it becomes instinct. Obviously, you can’t prepare for every emergency that may come up and you don’t know how you’re going to actually react when it happens, but you’re chances of doing what you plan would go up significantly if you drill it. ~ Like a fire drill of sorts.

    I saw something in The Walking Dead that stuck with me. One character was showing another how to shoot under pressure at moving targets and, although it didn’t simulate a zombie coming to eat her brain, the more she practiced in a real-feeling simulated situation, the more it came out instinctually when she was attacked.

    ..and that’s my very long-winded way of suggesting: make a plan and practice it ~ that’s really all you can do 🙂

  3. You saw the storm and got yourself and the doggie inside. When the lightning hit, you looked for smoke and you thought about your options. You decided on calling hubby. You did everything right.
    We can have “disaster plans” but we can’t rehearse for every disaster. And we will drive ourselves crazy if we try to.
    Thank the tree for acting as a lightning rod. The lightning hit the tree, not the house. And plant a new tree!

    1. A great way to look at it. The tree did save the house, didn’t it? Thanks for reminding me of what I did right. Sometimes it is hard to see what is right in front of you.

  4. Hi Sara,

    Wow – that sounds so scary!! I am glad you are ok and the house is (for the most part) in tact!


    1. Aren’t you glad you didn’t plan your trip here for this past week? Thankfully, in the end, all is well. 🙂

  5. Wow, what an experience–and you wrote about it so well! So glad you and family(dog included) and house are okay. Everything else is the small stuff.

    I don’t think you can plan for these kinds of freak emergencies. You did react very well and will react even better in your next emergency–hopefully you won’t have to again.

    I agree–thank the tree–your protector.

  6. The force of nature can be terrifying. We had major fires from lightning strikes in the Bay Area a couple of years ago. Pretty scary. I so glad you all made it through the ordeal. Our prayers are with those who are less fortunate.

  7. Not that I’m an expert on emergency situations or anything, but I’m with the others on coming up with a plan and practicing it so everyone knows what to do without having to think about it. I would guess there’s good information online about how to prepare.

    Sounds like a scary evening. I’m glad everything ended up being okay.

  8. Wow, Sara, that’s a lot of excitement and energy (yours and the weather’s) in the course of a day. I’m the sort who loves the drama of a good thunderstorm, but then I’ve never had one melt anything in my immediate vicinity! I think you handled it well – it wasn’t your fault the alarm company didn’t turn off the alarm. 🙂

    1. I usually love thunderstorms from the safety of my home, but I must say that when it stormed again today, I was a little shaken up. Guess it got the old adrenaline going.

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