Smoke….but no Fire!

Sunday a week ago I left a pot of boiling chick peas on the stove with the intention of making humus.  I had a guest for the weekend and we left to go visit the Monastery.  I swear I checked the stove before I left, but in my haste, I checked the burner that I usually use instead of the one that I was currently using…big mistake.  While my visitor and I were cheerfully enjoying a cup of coffee at the monastery, I got a phone call from a neighbor saying there was a bad smell coming from my apartment.  I instantly knew what I had done and panic rose in my core.  Not only for the possible property damage, but my cats were locked in that apartment!  We ran towards the parking lot and spotted a young couple heading in the same direction.  “Do you have a car?”  I asked in a panic.  They looked at me with surprise at the crazy, agitated woman speaking in accented Macedonian and warily nodded yes.   “Do you live in Kriva Palanka?”  “No” they responded, “We live in Skopje.”  “Can you give us a ride into town?  I just got a call from my neighbor and my apartment is on fire!” I explained in a panic wondering from the depths of my brain where these Macedonian words were coming from.  They agreed, cleaned some stuff out of the back seat, and allowed my guest and I to jump in.  It seemed like it took him forever to simply turn the car around, and granted the winding mountain road to the monastery must be driven with caution, but “COME ON,” my mind was screaming while I tried to breathe and think of what I had to do when I arrived home.  Approximately 15 minutes later we were in front of my building.  You could smell the smoke on approach even though my apartment is on the 3rd floor.  I ran (at 56 and despite the bad knee!!) across the street, up the stairs to the entrance and the next 2 flights to my apartment, trailed by my guest and the Macedonian neighbor who had tracked down my phone number and called me.  Upon opening the door I was met with a black wall of smoke.  I hurriedly went to the stove to deal with the cause while my guest ran in behind me (she was smart enough to cover her mouth and nose with her scarf!) to open all the doors and windows.  As the fresh air pushed the smoke out of my apartment, the silent smoke detector located in the kitchen finally ‘woke up’ and decided to do it’s job.  The problem clearly was not the battery!

After further discussion with my neighbor, everyone in the building had been trying to identify where the smell was coming from.  Clearly if the smoke alarm had been working it would have been more identifiable that it was my apartment and perhaps they’d have called me sooner.  This situation was definitely my mistake and my responsibility, and I have had to deal with the aftermath.  Safety and Security is paramount to Peace Corps policy and I know it is is their intention for us to have WORKING smoke detectors.  I’ve asked for a new one!
On the lucky side, my cats were OK… one survived by burying under the comforter on my bed and was breathing ‘filtered’ air and the other was under the bathtub in a corner as far from the source as possible.  I’m sure they were traumatized and I used up another of their 9 lives, but there was no observable soot around their airways and they seemed to be fine once we’d cleared the air (literally!) and things settled down.
Since then I have had the carpets taken to the car wash and cleaned, washed every cabinet, drawer, dish, glass, pot and pan, had ~30 hours of Macedonian cleaning women to do the floors, windows, doors and light fixtures, had the entire apartment re-painted, and all the tile surfaces wiped down.  The apartment still smells like smoke.  When the painter finishes with my bathroom ceiling today I will start cycling my clothes and blankets through the washing machine.  I’m VERY lucky this didn’t happen at night when I was home asleep nor in the middle of winter with -20 temperatures!!!
This could, of course happen anywhere in the world, but one cultural difference that may be interesting is the costs.  All the combined services listed above to restore my apartment to date have cost me roughly $150!!!
I was very lucky in spite of my negligence.  Please check your smoke detectors!

6 responses to “Smoke….but no Fire!

  1. Moral of the story: don’t eat hummus. :>) Glad you are safe and made it through a situation that could have been a lot worse! Amazing how little the restoration services cost, here it would have probably run you around $10,000!

  2. Yes dear , but how was the Hummus?

  3. Wow, that was hairy! Glad that you and your cats are safe and sound! What a mess with all that smoke. It is amazing you got it all cleaned up from that for only $150. I had just replaced all our smoke alarms – so I am with you.
    P.S. We have number 5 arriving in January!

  4. Carole Bratteig

    Thank God you and the kitties are all alive and well! That happened to me once long ago when I was baking a chicken. I thought I turned the oven off and instead turned it up:( as bad as chick peas might smell- that burned chicken turned me into a vegetarian for several years. Just checked my smoke alarm…again.

  5. Linda, like us, you were lucky and no one (I include pets as people) were hurt. However, if you add three zeros to your clean up cost you’ll come close to what ours cost!!! I agree with Eric on the hummus!! Miss you.

  6. Linda Winnie Towne

    Not just the cats have 9 lives – I consider this just another of your misadventures where you come out landing on your feet! LOL Love you my friend and am glad all is well now! Win

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