24.10.08

A small emergency

On Wednesday, I had a necessary trip to Oxford. I loathe going to Oxford - not so much the city itself, but all the faffing about on public transport. Our village has just one bus route, and about eight buses a day, for which small concession we are very grateful. But trying to get home is a hit and miss affair. After a tiring day I ended up having to wait for two hours in Witney town for my connecting bus, to take me all of 9 miles back to the country. How nice to get home, put a soothing Carlo Gesualdo CD on and start the wood burner.

It was all going well, and the knots of tension were unwinding, when I detected a change in the normally friendly chatter of the fire. Our little burner was roaring and the top of the stove pipe glowing red hot. I called Andy down (you know, just in case I was being hysterical) and he took one look and called 999. Now I have so many books and - stuff - that I live in fear of just this kind of situation, which is why we are so careful with plugs and shutting the cottage down at night. What do you think I rescued first - just in case we had a hosepipe of water cascading down the chimney?




It was automatic. I didn't even think twice. My precious stack of Cranes Lettrapress paper, (that big block of ivory with the CD pile on) of course, generously sent all the way from America by kind Francie of The Scented Cottage. I am saving it for when I eventually have time to get down to some serious printing, and to lose that would have been a minor tragedy. So upstairs it went, to safety and dryness. Andy put the wood burner itself out with a pan of water and we went outside where we could see the sparks floating out of the chimney top. Quite alarming.



Within about 10 minutes, our little downstairs room was being filled with the most wonderful sight - the cheerful night crew of Burford Fire Station. Such a comforting, sturdy presence and soon we were being checked over from top to bottom. It was drill night, and this was a welcome break from routine. One of the firemen, Phil was leading the general inspection, as part of his training. As the chimney stack rises right up the side of the wall, he went up into the attic with a heat-detecting-thingy, and declared it safe. Next was my studio - the toys looked suitably shocked. I don't think the chaps had ever seen quite so many - things in one room.




Unfortunately the chimney wall goes right up behind my paper chest and bookcase, with various bits and bobs stashed above and below. But they gallantly waved my apologies aside, and squiggled down with the heat-detecting-thingy to get the reading without disturbing too much. All safe in the studio.




Our big fireplace is blocked off with a metal plate, which has sliding doors for just such an occasion. (I always thought it was for letting birds out, but apparently not...). Thoughtfully, the lovely crew had covered our furniture with groundsheets, as they were about to start a big clean up operation and started removing an amazing amount of gunk from the chimney cavity. We were asked what wood we burn, as certain sappy woods need to be seasoned for a year, or they deposit flammable resin. Pine and Leylandii being the worst offenders. With not a little guilt, I explained how last year we had been given several large loads of freshly cut Leylandii, which we were really pleased with at the time, as wood is not cheap and this was free. We burned it all, not realising the fire hazard we were creating.




But the truth is we don't know when the chimney was last cleaned.
Somewhere in our tenancy contract it says we are responsible for getting it swept, but I am afraid as money is always tight, it was one of those things which got put on the back burner, as it were. This is the kind of rubble they scraped out...




Despite the stress of the situation, there was a constant flow of banter, chat and useful information. It cushioned the whole experience and made me feel less of a nuisance (it's a Brit thing, we tend to apologise for anything, whether we are to blame or not). Nice Vince (with the face mask) was in charge of poking the poles up the chimney and clearing the gumph out...




...with help and advice from Mike the Captain and Steve. Bucket loads of crud were removed.




One of the questions we were asked was (naturally) 'do you have a fire alarm'. We both looked shifty and shuffled and I hung my head in shame. Not really...not what you'd call a fire alarm...




For reasons of sheer laziness and shilly-shallying, we had neglected to replace the dead battery, and it had been in this state for about five years. Yes, I know. I felt like a complete fool and said as much. Absolutely no excuse whatsoever. But they were completely nice about it, and not only did they not lecture us (though they would have been bang to rights if they had), they replaced our cruddy corpse of an alarm with a spandy new one, with a ten year battery. For nothing. For nothing.



It seems that thankfully it was not a big fire. It was so lucky that I heard it just as it started. The operation wound down, and the Captain went through various fire safety leaflets with Andy, while I remembered my manners; tea and biscuits were produced. I think it was the eclectic mix of letterpress gear/books/toys/gumph which prompted them to ask what I did...to which I replied 'illustrator, artist, toymaker and occasional printer'.

I took a brew out to Dave, the driver - he had been the crackly voice over the walkie talkie, and was very kind in letting me take his photo. We chatted in the cold night, until the rest of the crew began packing the gear away.




So with our grateful thanks ringing in their ears, they left us in a relieved and remarkably tidy state. Though it was cold, miserable and damp that night, with no fire. When it is your main heat source, a fire becomes an essential comfort. We went to bed.




Now we are almost back to normal; there is a chimney sweep booked, but we can still have little fires in the burner, which is wonderful. My elderberry wine - now in demi-johns - is bubbling away and there's rabbit stew in the slow cooker.


(the stones are blackened from 240 years of constant use, not from the chimney fire!)


I told the chaps about my blog and asked their permission to take photos and write about our experience - and they kindly agreed. Because I learned some valuable lessons that night and I want everyone to make sure they have working fire alarms, and have a planned system of escape in case of fire. To tell you to take a mobile phone to bed with you, so that you can call in an emergency - because fire doesn't wait for a convenient time to strike. To take advantage of all the free services and help your local team can give you. To thank
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service but particularly to the crew from Burford. In no particular order, thank you very much to Steve, Mike, Phil, Vince, Paul and Dave. You were special.

56 comments:

tut-tut said...

What a scare! We lived in a house with three wood stoves a while back; it is very important to get those chimneys swept!!

Thank goodness for firefighters, calming ones at that.

Deb said...

sounds so scary gretel! thankfully you are both ok and so are all the precious things you have in your home. a very informative post about fire safety and it is nice to see the pictures of firemen in action. they seem like they were a very nice bunch of firemen. dx.

Gillian said...

Wow! First of all, so good to see you, andy, the house, the toys, the paper are all safe and sound! Second - I love seeing photos of you wee home! What a flurry of excitement. We have been holding off on lighting our fire until we can afford to get the chimney swept - luckily we have central heating too, but there is nothing like the sound and smell of a real fire. Hope you get yours back to full working order soon!

Bee said...

Sarah Laurence recommended your blog to me, and I've obviously dropped in on a very dramatic week! I'm pleased to hear that the local services are functioning so well . . . perhaps not in public transport, but it sounds like the firemen really made up for that. (A free alarm! What a bonus!)

Like Gillian, I really enjoyed seeing pictures of your cottage. Your bookshelves look just like mine. Funnily enough, I just wrote a post about how many books I had been harboring on my bedside table . . .

I know the Burford area quite well, and although I'm not on terms with the bus system, I've used the Park and Ride outside of Oxford many a time.

Such a pleasure to read about your country foraging and see some of your toys. When will you know if the wine is drinkable? (or should I say enjoyable?)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I am so very glad you, and all your stuff, are okay!! So scary! And it does serve to remind me to call our chimney sweep! I've had his phone number on my desk for a week, but of course have not called yet!! I will, now I will!

Snuggle in and enjoy your weekend!

June said...

Gosh! All those firemen inside your tiny cottage! And they left it so tidy too. I am so glad you are safe, and no harm came to your treasures. A good reminder to us all to take extra care. I shall go test my smoke alarm right now.

ellen said...

What a fright. I am so thankful that you are both in fine feddle. Our house is not old at all by your standards, but we heat it with wood and nothing else. I am always a little afraid of the buildup gunk and we do clean it out at least once a year...but, and so, there is still the fright now and then. I always listen when we first light the fire in the box for the "freight train sound" to turn it down..
Thank goodness for such wonderful and kind rescuers. Thank goodness your creations and beloved possessions are safe....but, especially that the two of you are safe. Whew!
Enjoy the safe warmth and comfort of the rest of your weekend.

Cindy said...

I'm so glad you were listening and heard the difference in the fire before it got out of hand. It would have been an absolute nightmare. So glad you're both well.

Cindy

liZZie said...

Phew! You had me worried there for a minute. I too enjoyed seeing your habitat. Do you think if I pretended to be a kitten stuck up a tree... I desperately need a strong person to help me do some lead stretching! Incidentally, smoke alarm installation regulations now stipulate that they have to be wired to the mains and each other. I think this refers to newly installed ones in new buildings. Take care. liZZie

Amanda said...

Wow I'm glad everything worked out ok and the firemen were so nice to you. My only scrape with firemen was my first year at uni. Our halls of residence had no outer locks on them so drunken students from all over campus would come and set our fire alarms off and the fire brigade would dutifully come to check it out (even when we knew there was nothing wrong). One week the fire alarm went of at least twice every night and I got sick of evacuating the building in my nightie, freezing my butt off and getting no sleep so I looked out the window, realised there was no fire and went back to bed. 5 minutes later the firemen banged on my door (along with about 20 others) and dragged us all outside for a great big lecture on how silly we had all been not to evacuate. I felt sheepish to say the least - I was being lectured in my nightwear - but please, I was tired *blushes*

Rima said...

OH GAWD!!
What a near miss... and a great story about it! Yes I had heard that about sappy conifers recently too...
I laughed at your fire alarm pic :)
We've got a fire extinguisher in our truck ready for any emergencies.. tho our chimney is a little easier to keep an eye on.
I wonder if the firemen will be visiting your blog? :)

Soozcat said...

Oh, so glad you and Andy and the critters are OK, and nothing else was seriously burnt! Best wishes to Burford's finest; sounds like they did a bang-up job. And replacing your fire alarm free of charge was just sweet of them.

We have the opposite problem here--an alarm which goes off loudly and regularly, because its placement right outside our bathroom is, well, boneheaded. The slightest bit of steam will set it off, and the bathroom door often refuses to shut completely. Our downstairs neighbors have been remarkably understanding about the frequent noise.

SueC said...

Wow.So glad you and Andy are safe. That must have been quite a scary experience and yay to the Burford Fire Crew. x

Sue said...

What a fright and what a relief that you are safe and well. However, I have to say, this is the most interesting and involving blog post I think I have ever read! Exciting, nailbiting, absorbing, well-illustrated, a bit of fireman totty, and a happy ending. Makes a fine change from all the cups-of-tea, what-I'm-having-for-supper, see-how-my-patchwork-quilt's-coming-along posts that proliferate, not least from my own blog, I'm afraid... However, I'm not sure I want to invite such a disaster, even for the quality of prose that it might produce! Hmm... back to the patchwork :-)

Jess said...

Makes ya Proud to be British! :)

Frances said...

PG, not only is it wonderful to know that you and yours are safe, but also that this post give proper praise to those Burford firefighters!

Any of us can grow complacent about safety, so your sharing your experience with FIRE should help to wake lots of folks up to real danger that lurks.

Around Halloween time is when we switch over from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. It is traditionally now also time for us to check out those batteries in our smoke detectors.

Happy to know that you all are now ready for winter. Stay warm and safe and ... as always, creative!

xo

Caroline B said...

So that small fire turned out to be fortuitous really - who knew so much gunk could accumulate in a chimney? Glad you are OK - what a lovely bunch of firemen too. By the way, don't ever burn railway sleepers - we did it once (again, they were free) and didn't realise the preservative they are soaked in goes up like rocket fuel..that was an interesting half hour....

Foxglove Cottage said...

What a scare! But I'm so glad it all turned out allright for you. A couple of months ago we had 10 houses in our subdivision burn because of a brush fire and I have to say I am TERRIFIED of fire! Now that I'm moving into a 'new' home I'm going to make sure I have working alarms and a fire extinquisher in the kitchen! Thanks for making me aware!

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Good Heavens!!!! We have our chimney cleaned every year, the woodstove is our only heat. In a similar situation here I would have to grab my rabbits, lest they be roasted.

Catherine said...

At least you are now fully prepared if it happens again, and you know your chimney will be good for a bit.
As someone with a lifelong terrible fear of fire, I always worry what I'd do if there was a fire here - especially in one of the flats below mine. There's no fire escape here, only the one way in or out of the building!
I don't blame you one bit for saving the paper - I would too I think.
Very glad to hear no one was harmed!

Gail said...

You tell it so well Gretel - thank goodness you spotted it when you did ... reminds me of the time I had the firebrigade round - for a leak from the empty upstairs flat through my kitchen ceiling and electric fitting ... so many firemen in a small space ;-)

So glad you and all your 'stuff' are alright :-)

-Gail XX

hen said...

blinky moses gretel, you go carefully there.

tlc illustration said...

Golly Gretel, great report (and you have so much more presence of mind to remember to photograph things as you go along. I think I felt too shy to even ask the nice police men and woman if I could take their pictures in my adventure this week).

I am very glad that all is well and safe and hopefully up and working and warm again now?

jamjar said...

Goodness, so glad you and your letterpress are all safe. Your post is a very useful and worthwhile reminder. thankyou.

CAMILLA said...

Hello PG,

I cannot believe I have not visited your blog before, my apologies PG, glad that I have done so though. It was the lovely Frances from Purplecoo who mentioned that you had a little disaster with your woodburner, as I had only just put up the night/owl post and mentioned about my woodburner.

So pleased you are safe, good work too by trusted firemen. Thank you for mentioning to take mobile phone upstairs at night, other phones we keep downstairs.

We had a little disaster with our woodburner two years ago and we had to call out firemen. The lining above woodburner was the wrong material that a designer had installed, flames everywhere, glad that I caught it in time, especially as I was just about to take dogs for a walk.

Sarah Laurence said...

I wish I were still in Oxford so we could have had tea. I did spend a lot of time that year waiting for buses and trains, but at least England has good public transportation. You really need a car to survive in Maine although I bike when I can.

What a scary incident! Glad to hear that you and your book/art/toy collection came out unscathed. You are reminding me to call the chimney people for our annual cleaning. It is worth it. Do put a new battery in your smoke alarm! Ours are hardwired. That mobile phone tip sounds like an especially good one for remote locations. Thanks for sharing you experience.

Kala said...

Thank goodness you are all safe, must have given you quite a fright! I am off to check the batteries in my fire alarms pronto!!

LittleBrownDog said...

Wow - what an adventure, but thank goodness no one came to any harm. I'd sort of heard somewhere that burning evergreens was not to be recommended, but I thought that was just because they created lots of smoke which blackened up the window of the woodburner. And like you, I am not good at making sure the batteries in our smoke alarms are up to speed.

Excellent photos, though, of your dear little cottage - looks like a real treasure trove full of lovely suprises. Like you, I wouldn't be without my woodburner, although will make a point of getting my chimney swept next year (apparently you can buy those long, bendy chimney-sweeping brushes). Would love to learn how to do letterpress printing some time.

xx

Mlle Miracle said...

As we say in spanish: "menudo susto" = "What a scare!". So glad you are ok! It was a nightmare before Halloween...

lettuce said...

thats some experience


i'm so glad you are all okay and all your precious books and creatures


hanging my head in shame, our chimney needs sweeping. we only burn it now and then but still...

Tea and Margaritas in My Garden said...

So glad you noticed something not right! You have such a lovely little cottage and all the tings you make and do.....I`ve really missed coming here to your blog.

tea
xo

carolyn said...

So glad all was well, a friend of our's house actually burned down from achimney fire a few years ago.

Nan and =^..^= said...

Hi Gretel,
Thank goodness you were home and hadn't left the room.
Even when cooking, it's a good idea to stay around the kitchen. Sometimes when I'm cooking and leave the kitchen, I get so very distracted with something else that I lose track of time until the scent of something burning reaches me!

I've tagged you on my blog, if you want to drop by and take a look, no obligation.

Nancy and =^..^=

Kim said...

Phew, what a drama, but sooo much better to read with a happy ending! I hope it wasn't little fire pixies causing trouble!!!

Kim x

mountainear said...

Have been there and done that - and never wish to revisit 'fire' again. The smell of smoke brings back too many memories. Glad that you are safe and well - at the end of the day that is the most important thing.

Can only endorse what you say in your last paragraph - the Fire and Resuce crews are special, and make sure your fire alarms work.

BritinBangkok (Michelle) said...

Oh Wow, so glad everything worked out okay and your firemen sound delightful :-)

Yep, you've gotta scrape the money together somehow to get the chimneys swept (although I know what it's like cutting corners when you're broke, seems to happen to me all the time!)

so happy you're house didn't burn down. I love looking at all your photos.

And if you see your firemen again give them a big hello from Bangkok, Thailand and tell them 'good job lads' :-)

acornmoon said...

Three cheers for your firemen, hip hip...!

You cottage looks lovely and cosy, I can understand your love of paper but what about your portfolio, now that would have been a tragedy.

So glad that you are and yours are safe and sound.

natural attrill said...

Blimey Gretel! glad to hear that you're both ok.
P.x

Cotswoldgent said...

So I hear Andy now dresses up as a fireman everynight!
Good to hear you're all OK.

Jennifer said...

WOW Gretel-- I'm so glad to hear that everything worked out okay. Chimney fires are scary business. (My biggest fear too.) Do you have a fire extinguisher on hand? Just another piece of security...

Francie of The Scented Cottage said...

Oh Gretel...you would think about that paper LOL.
sounds like a very exciting time...and I'm very happy it ended so well.

(())

CashmereLibrarian said...

Well, I'm certainly happy to hear that all is well. But it DID make for a very entertaining post!

Rachel said...

Am I the only person to think unkind thoughts about a possible link between Something Wicked... and a near-disaster involving fire?? Ladylike tail or not, I'd store her somewhere far away from a woodburning stove!

PG said...

Um...no, I think the fire was just because the chimney hadn't been swept for about 30 years. I'm not superstitious about Devils and I don't believe in Hell, else I wouldn't have made a Devil cat...

Libbys Blog said...

Oh golly what a scare! I am fanatical about having my chimney swept, probably because I used to have two little children, asleep in there beds at night. But sadly as thorough as I might have been does not mean your neighbour is the same and one of my girls came down to 'daddy' and said she could smell smoke (I was at work) as he went up to their room grabbing them both, a neighbour rang and said your chimneys on fire!! He said I know and put the phone down ringing 999 as he carried both girls out the cottage, I came back to fire engines and blue flashing lights having driven at about 100mph when I realised it was our cottages, but as I said it was our neighbours chimney that caught fire and not ours.
But like you our Fire Brigade where extremely thorough and I couldn't praise them highly enough, apart from the fact they look good in uniform lol!!! :o)
Glad it was a happy ending for you.

Meliors Simms said...

Whew, what a relief that it was only scarey and not actually a disaster. A great story!

Anonymous said...

10/10 to the fire brigade

this post made me go and check our smoke alarms, both ok, but made me check all the same.

could this be a start of a viral campaign for the Fire Brigade or is that my professional streak coming out?

best wishes to you both
graham

Sue said...

Blimey Gretel, I miss looking at blogs for a bit and you go and have a chimney fire and fill your cottage with lovely firemen! LOL! I'm so glad you're both safe and your lovely home too. What stars those firemen were!

Our multiburner does the hot water and central heating and I have to admit, although we always get the flue swept once a year, we haven't yet this year. The sweep's number is on the fridge...must ring him!

French Knots said...

Goodness how scary, so glad it wasn't worse.
I had a man round to give me a quote for putting a metal door on the outside of our chimney so it can be swept, as the woodburner pipe turns through 90 degrees. But he never got back to me, I'm going to ring him now!

kate smudges said...

I'm glad to hear that you are okay and so is your house.

Jackie said...

We used to have a coal fired central heating stove and sometimes a bit of cinder would get between the cylindrical tube that channelled air in and the metal disc that covered it..this was the only control it had. We had no door on our airing cupboard top at the time and I rememebr sitting on the loo and the fire was so hot that the water in the header tank was actually boiling and spurting hot 'rain' all over the place!
It also makes me wonder about your insurance....business?

Dana and Daisy said...

I've been intending to call a chimney sweep, now I will not let it go as another pesky task that can surely wait.

And replace my batteries in the fire alarm also.

So glad you are safe, and your treasures too.

Rachael Rabbit said...

I love firemen - they make my knees go week .... but did you have to mention the rabbit stew??? xx Really glad you and your cottage is safe.

muddy red shoes said...

GOSH!!! Glad all is well, can imagin what chaos and how scary, all your lovely stuff...good old fire men, love em!

Gordon Fraser said...

GOOD GOD GRETEL!!!!


Flippin' amazing....all I can say is thank the lords of Illustrtaion that you and Andy are OK and it was nothing too major! They seemed like a nice friendly lot, isn't it funny how the emergency services are generally lovely people (considering what they have to do and must see all the time) yet the money officials (banks, utility companies, council) tend to be cold gits!

HAHA!!

.....pity the poor bunny in your pot!!!

Gwen Buchanan said...

Oh thank heavens for you and your precious abode... unwanted fires are abominable... I had one.. I don't recommend them...in an instant your whole life and your families goes up in smoke...

a well told story... glad it had a happy ending...

all the best to you