Anyone who knows me well knows one of my favorite things to say is “God’s Perfect Timing.” I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be amazed at how perfect His timing is and by this season in my life I don’t even doubt it anymore. So, two weeks ago tonight when I was running out of my brand new condo with only my nightgown on over jeans, a jacket, my purse and phone, because of a three-alarm 100-foot-high fire less than a half a block away, one of the things that went through my mind was, “How is this God’s Perfect Timing?”
I’ve included a series of sunset photos taken at the beach in my hometown by my sister-in-law, Nina, in this post because they bring me a sense of peace and I feel that the one fire photo I’ve included shows it all. Also, please take a moment and read my last blog post “Anything Worth Having Is Worth Waiting For!”, if you haven’t yet, to get up to speed on the new condo story.
After several delays, Hubby and I were scheduled to move out of a temporary storage unit into our new condo on April 4th, but when circumstances changed one more time, we ended up moving on Tuesday, March 26th. We needed to stay in a hotel for three nights because we couldn’t get our refrigerator delivery re-scheduled for a few days, making our first night in the long awaited for condo Friday, March 29th.
Then, on what was supposed to be the second night in our new home, at 1:00 am, Sunday, March 31st, I suddenly woke up to a startlingly bright light in the house. Since the bedroom window was slightly open, I was also able to hear a noise I didn’t recognize at first and that turned out to be the crackling sounds of a massive fire. When I got up and looked out the window my brain couldn’t even comprehend what I was seeing. My first thought was, “Is that the sunset?” In front of my face was a 100-foot-high, full city block wide wall of fire. I could feel the heat coming through the window and within seconds I started to realize what was really happening.
As I quickly closed the window, the outside sheet of the double-pane glass shattered and the faux wood blinds began to melt right in front of me. I screamed for Hubby to wake up as the outside panes of all the other windows broke and other blinds in the house were melting. We threw on some clothes, grabbed our phones, purse and wallet, our keys and ran. In the hallway of our building, other people were running, knocking on doors and yelling fire.
We hurried down a flight of stairs to get outside and once there, we heard the sirens of several approaching fire engines and as the glowing ember filled sky rained down on us, we got in the car and drove off. In shock, we sat several blocks away and watched over the roof tops of other houses as the flames raged in the distance. We heard explosion after explosion and wondered each time if that was our building going up in flames next. I was shaking uncontrollably and called my brother and Nina so someone would be aware of what was happening to us. I’ve been through multiple scary life experiences over the years, but this was the scariest by far!
After a while, the police department had created a barricade around the affected area and there was nothing we could do, we drove to a hotel and tried to understand what we were facing. Our condo is in one of three new construction buildings and ours was the first building to be completed. The second building, nearest to ours, is about 75% complete, but the third building, on the other end of the block from us, was only a wood structure. No siding, drywall or sprinkler system to protect it and we knew that’s what was burning. What we weren’t aware of was six stand-alone homes were burning as well and two townhouse buildings were in the process of being badly damaged.
Our condo building is on the left side of this photo, our unit is on the fire side of the building and this is what we saw and felt from our windows. Photo by Roger Porzig.
As we lay in the hotel room, we could easily imagine that we were in the process of losing everything we owned. And it was very interesting to me that all the material possessions I had accumulated over the years didn’t matter at all. I was grateful we were not injured or worse and the one possession I did care about, the car, was safe. We fell asleep for a short while and at daylight we left the hotel room and drove back home. As we neared our new neighborhood, we nervously wondered what we were going to see and were both incredibly amazed to see our building still standing and for the most part intact.
The front door to our secured building had been broken down by the fire department and as we made our way up to the second floor where our unit is, we saw that the front doors to each individual unit had also been broken down. Some doors were completely off their hinges, broken into pieces and laying in the hallways. But, as we cautiously walked into our home of only a few days, we were astonished to see that not only our home, but our possessions were safe.
Soon after we arrived, a woman representing the condo builder appeared and after some evaluation informed everyone there at the time that the building was not inhabitable and we needed to quickly collect a few possessions and leave. As we were trying to decide what to take and where to go our new insurance agent called. He had already heard the story about the fire on the news and told us he would personally come join us shortly. To our surprise, within a few minutes of meeting with us he opened a claim right there on the sidewalk and had a place for us to stay within an hour.
Currently we are living in a hotel and have no idea when we will be going home again. We have been so blessed though! There were other families who lost everything, including cars and others who lost possessions inside their homes as well as their cars. It is clearly a miracle that we have lost nothing! I may be on my last frayed nerve at the moment, but I thank God that no one impacted by the fire was injured, including pets, and the community is coming together to help each other. This was a massive fire and investigators have been called in from miles around to determine what happened that night.
Even in the middle of this disaster, when I look at it with open eyes, I see “God’s Perfect Timing” all around us. Events often happen in our lives, but it’s how we survive them that matters. So many things could have gone differently and drastically changed the outcome for us, but they didn’t.
#1 – Hubby had been parking the car on a side street near our building since our garage wasn’t ready for parking yet. That day he decided to park the car in front of the building instead of on the side, otherwise our car would have been destroyed as 12 other cars were. And if the car had been parked in the garage, we would not have been able to drive away, since our side of the condo building was facing the fire and there was broken glass covering the driveway.
#2 – As I mentioned above, the outside sheet of every double-pane window on the fire side of the condo building shattered and dropped to the ground below or onto the balconies. Miraculously, the inside panes held strong and this prevented any smoke damage or water damage inside the building. With the majority of our possessions still in boxes, everything we own is safe and will be protected from restoration work in the days to come.
#3 – While sitting in our car at a distance watching the fire, we could see the wind blowing the smoke and the flames away from our building. Fortunately for us that was the difference in the amount of damage we sustained. Unfortunately, that put other homes right in the path of the fire. I now have an understanding of survivors’ guilt. I see what happened to other families and feel somewhat guilty talking about how many times the events that night went in our favor.
#4 – In the process of selling our townhouse and buying the condo, we made the decision to change insurance companies after 35 years. On March 21st our new insurance policy began and this new company is taking incredible care of us. At a community meeting where city officials shared updates about the fire, we heard stories of other neighbors who weren’t faring as well with their companies.
#5 – Finally, a guest at the hotel where we are staying heard about our story and one night an envelope was delivered to our room. The envelope contained a note that said, “I happened to overhear your circumstances while I was at the front desk, and wanted to buy your dinner. Please enjoy a night out, and I hope this brings you some joy. Have a good weekend!” The envelope contained $100.
One of the best experiences of this journey is discovering how generous people can be. Everyone we have encountered along the way has been wonderfully compassionate and that makes my heart feel good!
I know “Look for the good in every situation!” sounds cliché, but the more I do the more I see that is good. I’ve never experienced a fire before and it changes you. The little annoyances in life just don’t seem as important. I can honestly say I don’t know what will happen next for us and at this point I’m not even trying to guess. I don’t understand why we’ve had such a struggle and I never could have imagined the path we’ve been on since deciding to buy this condo. We have been well taken care of though and my faith has only been strengthened and I feel blessed that I can easily trust in the Lord.
Sunset Photos by Nina.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5, NLT