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Time to abort mission

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I snapped this with my blackberry sitting at the bottom of an exit ramp preparing to turn around and go back the way I came earlier today. I was scheduled to go out to Alcoa, TN again and had already delayed until later in the day before heading out. It never made it above freezing today and was still snowing, but the roads were well salted so I figured it should be OK.

I hit several patches of really heavy flurries but the road was clear and I remember thinking as I got near the NC/TN state line, “this isn’t bad at all, as long as I come back through before it re-freezes for the night.” Then I rounded a curve and hit my first patch of solid white, slick road, decided maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all, and bailed at the next exit. The ramp back up onto I-40 in the opposite direction was also totally covered in snow and ice and I barely made it back up onto the Interstate. I don’t think Chevy Uplanders are designed for four-wheeling. 😉

Wintery weather

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Video: Rat loves cat

That is one patient cat.

RIP Dallas

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We got an email Sunday night from our friend Mindy letting us know that Dallas had passed. He’d been with their family almost 12 years, coming to them as a puppy when her husband Drew was stationed in Germany. We only met him a couple of times but in the years Mindy and I worked together in Arizona and Texas, I heard about him on a daily basis and so I felt like I had lost a friend when I read her email.

Dallas was an enormous Rottweiler; other than being capable of some wickedly room-clearing gas, he was the perfect dog. He was an absolute gentleman with their grandchildren, incredibly patient even with Ozzy the rat terrier (who had some guarding issues and more than once launched himself straight into Dallas’ face) and good natured with everyone he met. He was such an important part of their family we just can’t imagine them without him, and our hearts go out to them. Rest in peace, Dallas.

The New Year starts off with a bang…

…well, more of a loud pop, really… then some acrid black smoke, flames, and a call to 911. As I hinted in my last post, we had a bit of excitement here last night; one of our oil-filled space heaters caught fire! I have to say that as much as I have complained over the years about having a black cloud over our heads, and bad luck, when it really matters our luck is actually pretty good — we are so very very thankful that this happened when we were home and awake so no harm was done.

We were up later than usual and Simon had been acting a bit odd: in retrospect we think he was trying to warn us something was wrong. He kept coming and getting in Joy’s lap and staring at her intently and then running ahead of her down the hallway when she got up, as if he wanted her to follow him. She checked his food bowl and there was lots of food, so that wasn’t the problem. Shortly before midnight I heard a strange kind of buzzing pop, sort of like the noise when someone sticks something into the blades of a running fan. I had just turned on a small floor fan that we use for white noise, and checked to see if something was blocking it, but it was clear. Winter had jumped onto a metal trunk at the foot of the bed in that room so I thought maybe the noise I heard was her nails on the trunk surface.

A few minutes later Joy came down the hall and said “what is that terrible smell?” We tracked the smell to the space heater, which now had some weird sooty looking stuff on the top of it. I immediately unplugged it, and we opened windows to clear the smoke, which was filling the house with a nasty ‘scorched electronics’ stench. I figured the heater had burned out, and was mentally trying to calculate whether we could still take it back to Lowe’s, and where I’d put the receipt, as I wandered off to the bathroom. A minute later, Joy’s voice, sounding very odd, came from the other side of the bathroom door: “could you please come out here?” Then she informed me that the heater was now on fire!

I tried not to panic. We’d already gotten the cats to another part of the house and closed the door of that room because of the smoke, but the whole house would go up like a tinderbox if we could not contain this. The smartest thing to do seemed to be to drag it out the door… we grabbed several oven mitts and maneuverer the smoking heater, which was thankfully on wheels, onto the side porch. The flames, which had been contained inside the unit, flared up and threatened to ignite our oven mitts. There was also the fact that we were now on an old wooden porch scattered with dry leaves to contend with, and the uncertainty of exactly how dangerous a smoldering heater filled with oil could be.

I have always had a fear of fire, and this was one of those moments where the part of me that wants to just run away and let someone else deal with the situation comes face to face with the reality that there is no one else. We either had to cope with this or the situation was about to get exponentially worse. Joy was afraid to handle the heater as well, but neither of us panicked and we managed to wheel it carefully off the porch and onto the grass without tipping it over. We still had no idea if the oil inside was burning, or if the whole thing was at risk of exploding, but at least it was out of the house.

I ran back into the house for a bucket of water (to pour around the heater so the dry grass wouldn’t ignite) and weighed whether the situation was under control or not. I didn’t want to call the fire department unless things got out of hand, but if they got out of hand would we still have time to call?

I decided to play it safe and called 911 while the bucket filled, since my last view of the heater was of one entire side of it glowing orange, but when I got back outside I found that the fire had gone out. Actually, it had a bit of help in that; Joy was standing at a safe distance dousing it with a water bottle. She’d squirted a bit to see what would happen, and when it didn’t seem there was any actual oil on fire, she soaked the front. She did get to see the plastic timer dial slide off the face of the unit like melting ice cream before the flames finally subsided.

Great. So now we had the fire department on the way and no fire. I called 911 again and tried to get the run canceled but they were already en route and the dispatcher said it would be better to just let them come and assess whether the threat was over. A couple of minutes later two huge fire trucks came screaming up our road with more on the way, sirens wailing and lights blazing. We hurried over to tell them what was going on and they managed to stop the other trucks from coming all the way up — there’s no way they could have gotten a ladder truck turned around on our tiny one lane private road. They were very nice about the whole thing and shrugged off our apologies for wasting their time. A couple of them examined the heater, confirmed it was no longer burning, and surmised that the timer switch seems to be what caught on fire.

After a triple homicide just down the road on the 30th and a then bunch of car wrecks on the ice on the 2nd — also on Old NC 19/23 — our neighborhood has seen a little too much excitement in the past few days (one of the firemen made a comment to that effect) and we felt really bad for adding to the mayhem. We are very grateful to the Enka Candler fire department for responding so quickly and being so gracious, professional, and good-natured about the situation.

The heaters (we had two of them) are/were equipped with timers and we had them set to come on at certain times to take the chill off at night, and so that the animals would be warm enough when we were at work. We’re afraid to use the remaining heater now, and we’re not comfortable with leaving the propane monitor heater on unsupervised, either (that’s why we’d gotten the oil radiators) so we’ll all have to adjust to being a bit colder until spring comes. I am sure not going to complain — it sure beats having the house burn down around us!

We took a few pictures of the heater carcass — amusingly, we’d never noticed that the heater model name was “Dragon” before.