Standing in the galley kitchen facing the back porch, my daughter and I were preparing dinner, chit-chatting about both of our uneventful days. Chicken noodle soup and cornbread were on the menu. As she chopped the carrots and celery, I mixed up the cornbread while the oven was preheating.
We heard an unfamiliar noise at the same time and turned to look at each other with a scrunched “what the hell was that?” face. I thought maybe it was the neighbor engaged in some weird activity and peered out the window. I found nothing and no one was in his driveway. Then I had the thought that it was probably the pot boiling and turned around to confirm. It was not. As I began to shift my attention back to the cornbread, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the glass of the oven door, from which a bright golden light emanated.
“Holy shit, the oven’s on fire,” I announced, as if I had just discovered we had no chicken for the chicken noodle soup. Realizing now that THE OVEN IS ON FIRE, I spun around and quickly opened the oven door, but realizing the fire was bigger than me, I slammed it shut, turned the oven off, and went to the cabinet to search for the box of salt. Do we even have a box of salt?
“Call 911! Now!” I shouted to my teenage daughter, who stood in the middle of our very small kitchen, eyes wide and apparently paralyzed.
She immediately called and gave our address to the dispatcher. Literally, a mere minute had passed. We both began coughing and choking. “Get out of the house!” Abandoning the foolish notion of putting out the fire myself, I ushered her to the door and we went outside to wait. I poked my head back inside to check the status. I couldn’t tell if there were still flames in the oven, but black smoke filled the kitchen and made its way through our tiny house. I hoped it didn’t reach the front of the house where our dwarf rabbit lived, or the back of the house, where our cat, Star, typically ran to hide when any sort of chaos happened (which is pretty much on a regular basis). I went back outside to wait.
We could hear the sirens get louder as the fire trucks got closer. Yes, fire trucks. Plural. I imagined all of the neighbors peering out of the slats of their closed blinds, wondering, “Oh, what now??”
Three firemen in full gear (including an ax, which, even in this situation, I somehow found amusing) marched up the driveway, where we stood breathing in the clean air. I thanked god that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t yet taken off my bra tonight.
“What’s going on?” asked Hugh Jackman the leader of the three swoon-worthy rescuers. Holy crap, I thought to myself. I glazed over and almost forgot why we were there.
A former co-worker used to get all excited when the fire trucks, prompted by some college student prankster pulling the fire alarm, would show up across the street from the office on a semi-regular basis. She would literally beam when the firemen would pile out of the truck. I found it disturbing that she would be giddy at the sight of a fire truck. Until tonight, that is.
“Uhm, there was a fire in the oven,” I stammered, letting out a small laugh of embarrassment. “We actually get that quite a lot,” he responded. I felt no less an idiot, but was grateful that Hugh was trying to make me feel better about it.
Two days ago, I had made a coffeecake to take to work. Butter spilled out of the dish and pooled in the bottom of the oven, but I didn’t have time to wait for it to cool off to clean it up that morning. And of course I completely forgot about it as soon as I stepped out of the door to head to the office. So now, as luck would have it, 7:00 Friday night, here I was having a moment with the local fire department.
While standing outside in the light rain, waiting for Hugh and the crew to update me on the damage, I gazed over to read my daughter’s latest tweet: “yanno, makin dinner,” which included a picture of the two fire trucks, red lights a-swirl, and the Fire Marshall’s SUV parked on the street in front of our house. “Nice,” I said, giving her the sideways glance with headshake.
Thankfully, the fire was suffocated when I closed the oven door and it went no further. “You did the right thing by leaving the oven door closed,” Hugh said. I felt proud of myself for about 3 seconds, until reality reminded me that I had caused the fire in the first place. I vowed to clean the oven the next day.
Another fireman brought an industrial fan the size of Venus to the back door to help suck the smoke out. I went into the kitchen to assess the situation. Hugh had just pulled the oven out, away from the wall. I said a silent prayer that I didn’t have the gas Viking stove I had been lusting over for years. Looking into the empty space, I gasped with horror. “Oh my god! How disgusting!” as I sized up the filth that had been living beneath the oven. I wanted to slither away in shame out the back door. There was clearly nowhere for me to hide from it. “Can I clean that up before you put it back?” I asked. He smiled. “They pretty much all look like that,” again trying to comfort me. I loved Hugh.
I swept up the mess and he cleaned out some of the grossness inside the oven as best he could. “You’ll need to wait until it cools down completely to finish wiping it out, but it should be okay to use in a bit. There wasn’t any physical damage.”
My humor took a back seat for a minute as I considered just how fortunate we were. I was truly grateful that we were all safe and that our house was fully intact. I thought about how catastrophic the situation could have been. My daughter often cooks, sometimes rather elaborately, including when I’m away at work or running errands. My mind raced thinking of what could have happened had I not been home, had she turned on the oven to preheat and gone into the other room for awhile. Although she is very mature and responsible, the fire broke out in a matter of minutes after turning on the oven and smoke filled the room quickly. My heart went out to victims of tragic fires as I now clearly understood how smoke inhalation alone could incapacitate a person. I shuddered to think of an uncontained house fire.
As the three musketeers filed out of our house, Hugh stopped with a clipboard, pen poised. “I need to complete my report. Can you give me your name and phone number?” I tried to stifle a smile but was unsuccessful. I rattled off my information, then followed with, “But dinner’s gonna be late tonight. Maybe we should schedule for tomorrow.”
He was late for dinner Saturday. So late, in fact, that I’m still waiting. On the bright side, my oven is clean.