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THE FIRE AT OUR HOUSE
j. c. curlaeder
DECEMBER 5, 1943
In April, 1940, I discovered a fire in our house.
I summoned the Pi re Department and they extinguished it with
The fire was caused by a flood of oil on the cellar
floor and could have been very serious if it had not been
discovered in time.
THE FIRE AT OUR HOUSE
One day, early in April of 1940, when I arriTed home
from a short trip in Annapolis, Md. , my thoughts were far from
the experience that was about to befall me that day.
It was very cold that day for April and the ground
was covered with a thin blanket of snow. I was puting my
father's car into the garage when I first sensed that some-
thing was wrong. All the cellar windows on the side of the
house, next to the diriveway, were broken and very dirty. I
pu$ the car away and proceeded to the front door, with con-
siderable haste, as my curiosity was arroused, as to hoTt the
windows becaaae broken.
"When I opened the front door, I was startled to
find the house was full of the densest smoke I have ever
seen. One couldn't have possibly seen the faintest outline
of an object more than a yard away. From the smell of the
smoke I could tell that it was from the oil burner. I
thought that the chimney was stopped up or perhaps some-
thing was wrong with the burner itself.
Being unable to breath? , in the smoke, I im-
mediately returned to the porch to regain my breath. In-
haling deeply the fresh outside air, I held my breath and
dashed back into the house. I opened one window in the
hall i as best I could with my eyes burning from the smoke.
When I returned to the porch I realized that
the situation was far too server to handle alone, so I
ran down the street, to the fire alarm "box, and turned in
an alarm, telling the Fire Department to come as fast as they
could, and at the same time hoping that all the smoke wouldn't
blow away until they came. I phnned my father, informed him
of the situation, and then waited the fire departments* arrival.
Within three minutes I could hear the sound of
sirens in every possible direction. In another minute the
engines began to arrive. I signaled them which house it was,
which wasn't necessary as the smoke was pouring out of the
door and window that I had left opened.
I was impressed by the effeciency of the Fire
Department, and for the first time in my life, realized to
the full extent how essential they are to a community, even
though they spend most of their time palying checkers, and
shining up their engines.
As each engine passed the fire plug on the corner,
two men would jump off holding the end of a fire hose, that
unravled as the truck proceded down the street.
The firBt contigent of firemen dashed in the front
door, which luckly was opened. To my amazment, they didn't
take a hose with them, in fact not even a fire extinguisher.
All they carried were axes. The second hunch of firemen from
another engine, ran to the cellar door on the side of the
The door at the time was locked, and I told the
firemen that if he waited a few seconds, the men who went
in the front door would let them in. But he just looked at
me and smiled, and raised his ax. In spite of my yelling,
"Hey don't do that", and *You won f t think it's so funny when
Dad hears about it 1 * he let the ax fly. With that one blow
he split the door from top to bottom, with glass and splinters
flying in every direction. Then with his heavy boot he kicked
what was left right off the hinges.
At the same time other firemen were breaking the
window frames out of the cellar windows. I recall one cellar
window that was still intact, that is, the panes were not
broken. However a firemen noticed it the same time as I did,
so he strolled over, and with the same motions as a golfer
teeing off for a long drive, he put his ax in full swing.
Before it hit the window another fireman on the inside opened
the window, making a very interesting situation. The ax missed
the window and the man inside, who was holding it, but the
ax must have scared him and he let the window fall, breaking
By this time there were six engines and at least
six times that many fireman. They brought the fire under
control in a short time and cleaned up the mess that they
had made doing it. The fire had been caused by an excess
amount of oil that overflowed into the cellar, Instead of
on the outside, when the drive* delievered too much. The
firemen estimated that 100 gallons of oil lay on the cellar
floor and furnished the base for the fire, There is no doubt
that if the fire had not been extincuisted before it got
completely under way, the damage resulting wo\ild have been
very serious, if the house was not lost completely.
The house of course was insured, and the insurance
company paid for the damage, but asking permission to sue
the fuel oil company using my father's name, to which he
The case came up about six months after the fire,
and I went as a witness, since I had discovered the fire.
The case started at 9:00 A.M. and lasted until 4:30 in the
afternoon. Everyone who was in any way connected with the
fire was called to the stand. The result was a tremendous
amount of worthless, loosely connected information.
I have never seen such, simple straight forward
facts twisted about until they became so complicated that
it would have been impossible for any jury to make a
So, the judre who was presiding, interrupted for
a second and asked one of the jurors to step off the jury
box platform, which he did. The case then preceded in the
usual manner for several minutes, and the judre pounded his
gravel and said the case was a mis trail since there were
only eleven jurors in the box instead of twelve. He also
added before dismissing the case that the case could not be
booked a,rain for at least a year as there was a lone waiting
list and suggested that the matter be settled out of court.
That Judge was, in ray estimation, a very wise
man, for the case was settled in the hall outside of the
court room doors with in ten minutes of the time the Judge
called a mistrial. The Fire Insurance Company and the Fuel
Oil Company divded the cost of the fire.