Monday, February 22, 2010

Burning Down The House

To be an allegedly smart person, I am so, so dumb.

I am afraid of spiders, so I take the proper precautions in not making my home a welcoming habitat for creatures of the 8-legged persuasion. I vacuum cobwebs, I spray bug killer around doors and windows, and I discourage the kid from going in and out too much and leaving the door open.

As afraid as I am of spiders, though, that fear pales in comparison to my fire phobia. I am terrified of fire to the point where I get so nauseated by the sight of a house fire that as a teen I threw up twice after episodes of Rescue 911. So wouldn't I take the same precautions about fire that I do with spiders, only with feeling?

Apparently not, seeing as how my house now smells (and probably will for weeks) like an explosion at the Crayola factory, following a near tragedy at our house involving an oil burner and a tealight.

It's no secret that I have candle issues. I'm an addict. When someone draws my name for a gift exchange, I always tell them I'm the easiest giftee on the block--get me a scented candle with a warm, cozy aroma and I'm a very happy girl.

So they're all over the house, in every room. I can't function in a smelly house. I can't stand cooking smells. It's one thing to smell taco beef when you're hungry and dinner is almost ready; it's another thing altogether to have your house smell like dead animal and cumin for 48 hours after.

For our bedroom, I long ago bought a scented oil warmer with a tealight candle under the oil well that distributes the scent all through the bedrooms in our house. It's my go-to thing for taco night, salmon night, forgot-about-those-potatoes-in-the-bin-until-they-rotted-night...

Problem is, I can't see this oil burner. All my other candles are visible from the main living area of our home. You see where this is going, don't you?

Last night was like so many others. I lit a candle in the living room and in the kitchen to get rid of supper smell. I went back into our bedroom to lay out clothes and could still smell garlic. I lit my oil burner and thought to myself, "Remember to blow that candle out in a few minutes."

But Amazing Race came on. Darn you, gripping reality television.

A little after it ended I went through the rooms extinguishing candles, thinking about relaxing in bed. By the time I got to our bedroom doorway, I could smell smoke.

I'm still unclear on what caused the little inferno, exactly, whether it was a defective tealight candle that just burned too hot or whether oil leaked off the plate, but there was a pretty good-sized fire going around the burner. I actually thought for a minute there that I could blow on it and get it to go out. Didn't exactly put out the fire. Kind of like when my father-in-law tried to put out a raging blaze, which destroyed the entire upstairs of Jason's family's home 10 years ago, with a mixing bowl full of water.

"Jason!"

He answered me with an annoyed, "What?" I'm sure he thought it was just a spider. If only.

"Little help back here."

He stood in the doorway for a minute and I saw him start to lean in...to blow on it. Why do we think that will actually work on any flame bigger than a match?

"I already tried to blow it out! It won't! The whole holder's on fire and OHMYGODWHATAREWEGOINGTODO!? Do you want me to get baking soda? Or just call 911?"

"Calm down. Go get a pot."

A pot! To snuff out the flames! Genius! He's totally worth having around.

So I got the largest pot I thought I had...

And it wasn't big enough to completely deprive our little growing problem of air. Smoke was filling the room.

"OHMYGODWHATAREWEGOINGTODO!? It didn't work."

"Calm down. Go get a bigger pot."

And it's funny that I realized I did, in fact, have a bigger pot that we only use to boil spaghetti in. And what do you know...it mostly fit over the burning tealight oil-heater of doom. And as fires will do without oxygen, it went out.

The whole drama lasted no more than a minute. But I felt eons go by. I saw my humble little house go up in flames, all our belongings turning to ash.

The dresser the oil burner sat on was not even scarred, amazingly. As I looked around, a saw dozens, nay hundreds, of ways that the situation could have gone south. Sometimes I have errant paper Lens Crafters lens-cleaning cloths on that same part of my dresser; one of those surely would have caught from the heat. All my makeup and grooming accessories were close to the fire; they all have alcohol in them and would have gone up fast had the flames gotten a little closer. And it all went down half a foot away from my bed where a spark could have lit up the whole comforter, which could have spread to the carpet, which could have gotten to the curtains...

Suffice to say, we were very lucky. And I was very, very stupid.

The charred remains of a once-lovely Bath and Body Work oil warmer were quickly cooled off, wet down, and put out in the trash. The smell, an intense, waxy odor, kept us out of the bedroom for hours. Most windows in the house were opened wide even in the February chill just to get the smoke out and avoid setting off the alarm (and waking Ainsley, who slept through the whole thing in the only place in the house that the smoke smell didn't spread to.) Even this morning when I came back into our bedroom from the kitchen, I could smell perfumed smoke. I can even pick it up on the clothes I am wearing today.

Have I given up on candles? Not completely; but no more back in the bedroom where I can't see them. Have I given up on tealights and oil warmers? Hell to the yes. I already internet-window-shopped during lunch for one of those scented-oil diffuser setups that uses reeds deeped in oil and no flames whatsoever.

Because I still want our bedroom to smell nice after taco night, you know? Just not like burned Crayons.

4 comments:

DRoss said...

This is all my fault. I totally jinxed you by telling the story on Saturday of our near-miss with the oven display meltdown.

Robert K. said...

Reminds me of the time Deb lit a really tall candle in our apartment, and it leaned over and set the wallpaper on fire. Luckily it didn't cause much damage, just a long scorch mark.

corycaleb said...

I am so glad you and the family are OK! A friend of mine from law school had a similar experience with a yankee candle - though their house actually burned to the ground and they lost everything they owned about two weeks before their wedding. Thank goodness you only had to deal with burnt crayon smell!!

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