Red, white and blue buntings hung from the porch roof, and a giant American flag was tacked to the side of the garage. The sweeping front lawn was newly mowed. In the backyard, flower pots festively adorned with miniature American flags and ribbons surrounded the sparkling pool. 

The “second” refrigerator in the garage was stocked with 75 hamburgers, 150 hotdogs, countless popsicles and a case or two of beer. It was late Saturday evening of Memorial Day weekend. The residents of the house on Maplewood felt fully prepared for the annual backyard barbecue they had planned for 80-plus friends and school chums the next day.

Tim was completing one final job: preparing pulled pork on a “barbecue smoker,” one of his culinary specialties. But something went wrong. A freak accident ignited the smoker, sending heat waves and flames over the back deck, and ultimately igniting two propane heaters nearby. Suddenly, flames were everywhere. Their fire extinguishers couldn’t cope with the intensity. Within minutes most of the house was destroyed.

    According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2013

    there were 369,500 house fires with direct property damage

    estimated at $6.8 billion. Cooking equipment is the leading cause

    of home structure fires.

Everyone escaped, no one was hurt, and most fortunately, their 10-year-old daughter Maddie was away at a friend’s sleepover. She didn’t have to witness the ravaging fire that destroyed her possessions, including a pink stuffed animal named Puppy, American Girl dolls, special blankets and her clothes. 

I woke up by chance at 1:30 AM and noticed an Instant Message on my iPhone from son-in-law Tim.  It read: “We had a problem with the meat smoker which caused the propane to ignite. Pretty major fire. All are ok.”

When I called, my daughter Alex answered.  “Mom, I’m standing on our front yard in my pajamas, with my arm around Max (their 14 year old son), watching everything we own go up in flames. Everything.  It’s devastating.”

There is nothing good I can say about the fire, but honestly, all was not lost. My daughter and her family have received a virtual tidal wave of generosity, love and support from their friends and family — new wardrobes for the kids and her, fuzzy cuddling blankets, baskets of toys, cash and enough food to feed a homeless shelter. 

“I’m overwhelmed by what people have done for us,” she told me. “The desk clerk at our Residence Inn thinks we must have some kind of celebrity with us because packages get dropped off every hour.” 

The head of the Portsmouth area lacrosse association telephoned to say he had new uniforms made for Max and Maddie. Local Girl Scout troops volunteered to take the kids to a nearby amusement park. Friends have offered gift cards to Home Depot, others sent jackets and sweatshirts, still others brought beach towels for a potential beach trip. The largesse is mind-boggling.


Life will never be the same. Alex called yesterday, thrilled she had found Max’s cub scout suit in the sooty ruins. “It’s covered with ashes and it’s smokey, but I can wash it and start a new memory box for him.” Walking through the charred destruction of the house on Maplewood, she realized they had lost Christmas decorations, many of which were family treasures or hand-made by the kids in elementary school. Tim discovered a charred photo of him and Alex on their wedding day and she found the singed corner of the box storing her wedding dress.

They will be okay. They have insurance, brains, fortitude and resilience. The fire destroyed the house on Maplewood but not their spirit … or future.