Burning down the house

a red candle with a burning flameAn interesting morning so far. I almost burned down the house. Fun fact: almost burning down the house is not just interesting – it’s actually quite exciting. But also stupid. Just sayin’.

I’ve been smelling an odd odor in one corner of my studio lately. Kind of onion-like. Not a terrible smell but annoying. As is typical of me, I only gave a cursory look and decided whatever it was. it wasn’t important enough to spend the time/effort finding it. Instead I lit a bayberry candle in a jar that I’ve had for years and years. I only light the thing around Christmas, and then only for a little while because the scent is so strong. Mostly I just take the top off and let the jar outgas and that’s quite enough Christmassy scent.

Not today. Today I lit it and put the burning candle on the windowsill of the studio.

Then I sat down to use the laptop, which is in the same corner area of the room, right under that windowsill facing southeast. The glare from the sun was too much. I couldn’t see the laptop screen. Not the first time, of course: Every other day I’ve put on a baseball cap to shade my eyes (to avoid spending the time/effort of actually dealing with the glare), but since last week I bought curtain rods to put on that bank of windows to deal with that issue, I decided today was the day to put up the curtains.

After wrestling with the damn curtain rod, which is supposed to be spring-loaded but turns out that didn’t come pre-assembled, I finally got it all together and got a muslin curtain panel on it. The curtain was one of several panels I’d found at a cool art/treasure shop in Magdalena about 15 years ago that I intended to use for fabric art, but never did. Somewhere along the line I figured I’d be happier using them for curtains after all.

I went to put the loaded curtain rod in the window and damned if I hadn’t set the stupid spring stop in the wrong place. The assembled rod was too big! How was that possible — I had measured and fitted it about half a dozen times! I wasn’t in the mood to adjust it one more time because I really wanted to use the laptop, so I just shoved the curtain rod in place at an angle, figuring I’d fix it later. Ahhh. no glare! Now, to work.

Ahem. Note that my temporary fix draped the curtain right over the candle. The lit candle. The open flame that I didn’t notice because the sun was glaring through that window so brightly.

I sat down at the laptop and started typing. Bubz woofed. I looked out the window to where my car was parked, saw nothing, turned back to the laptop and realized the curtain had just burst into flames.

If you’ve ever wondered how fast a housefire can get started, I’m here to tell you it happens in seconds. Literally. I leaped to my feet and yanked that curtain rod down immediately but the fire was already tripled in size. The cloth was burning like there was gasoline on it. The curtain rod landed on the laptop and ignited some paperwork that was sticking out from under it. I yanked the flaming fabric along with the curtain rod off the table and onto the floor. Now the fire was bigger and my laptop was on fire. I opened the door, threw the curtain rod with its flaming muslin outside, then shoved the laptop off the burning papers and dumped them outside on the wooden deck.

I did have the presence of mind to stomp the flames out so the deck wouldn’t catch on fire before I ran back into the studio to put out whatever else was burning. Nothing was, but the room was getting smoky so I opened the doors while I cleared out any remaining smoldering stuff.

And then I blew out the stupid candle.

Damage report:

  • One scorched curtain rod.
  • A sketch pad with about one inch of burned edge – I can trim that off (the laptop protected it frum burning more).
  • Eewie gunk on the laptop. No sweat, it came off with glass cleaner. Fortunately nothing on it melted, though a discerning eye can still see discoloration. I’ll hit it with the cleaner again.
  • A small patch of burned grass outside, now soaked with water.
  • The curtain itself totally consumed and all that’s left is black pieces that are now in the dog poop scooper.

Lessons learned:

  • I’ve never liked view-blocking curtains before, why start now?
  • If there’s got to be curtains, use flame-retardant ones fer cryin’ out loud!
  • Use the desktop computer in the middle of the house when the sun’s glaring on the laptop in the studio.
  • Scented candles are stinky enough without a flame, no point in lighting them.
  • Listen when the dog woofs.
  • Never take fire for granted.

Oh, and the corner of the studio doesn’t smell oniony anymore. Just sayin’.

Talking Heads, Burning Down the House



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About lifstrand

Lif Strand began writing fiction when she was a kid. Nobody read her stories. A former Arabian horse breeder and endurance racer, then reporter and freelance white paper writer, Lif lives in a straw bale house off-the-grid and writes fiction once more--or at least whenever she’s not scooping horse poop, taking photos, or playing with fabric art.

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