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Full text of "The fire at our house / J.C. Curlander."

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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 
little difficulty. 

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. 


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 
it anyway. 

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.