Let me first say that if offered a reward or prize for saving our city from icy catastrophe in Thursday’s winter storm, I will decline it.
I am gratified that my actions may have prevented widespread damage and electricity disruption, along with the human misery that would accompany that, but it would be wrong to seek or accept any reward.
No, my actions were prompted by no heroic intent but instead by my desire to avoid looking like an idiot for the second time in less than a week. Saving the city was a happy byproduct.
When the previous ice storm hit last weekend, the power in our neighborhood went out around 8:30 a.m. My initial thought was that my wife and I could stay with my stepmother in northwestern Guilford County because she has gas logs, so her house would stay warm even though her power was out too.
She told us, “Come on over.”
But as we began to gather our things, she texted a reminder: Her house gets its water from a well, so no power means no pump and no water. If we came, we would have to bring containers of water to flush the toilets.
This altered the calculus.
Maybe it would be better to just add layers of clothing and stay in the growing cold.
Then I slapped my forehead. Though we had lived in the house since June, somehow I had forgotten an element of the room.
“We have a fireplace,” I said. “Let’s just build a fire.”
The previous owners had left some firewood beside the house. Happily enough, they were under cover and were dry, so I set about building a fire.
As the flames gradually grew, I saw a few curls of smoke rolling up past the mantle into the living room, but once the fire was full and hot, everything appeared to go up the chimney.
We set up a table near the fire to play Scrabble while waiting for the power to come back on.
Gradually I noticed the room growing a bit hazy. Some smoke continued drifting into the room.
After a couple of hours, the amount of smoke started to worry me. I set up a ladder by the smoke detector.
I grabbed a towel, opened the front door and started waving smoke out the door.
After a minute I thought it looked like smoke was rolling thickly off the porch. Turning back toward the fireplace, I saw smoke pouring into the living room toward the front door. I had made things worse.
The hallway smoke alarm went off, and then the alarm’s control panel in the kitchen started screeching.
I scrambled up the ladder and removed the smoke detector from the ceiling to run outside with it as my phone rang — the alarm company checking to see what was happening. I grabbed the screeching control panel as I answered the phone and went out the door.
“No,” I said, “the power went out and we built a fire in the fireplace, and we have some smoke in the house.”
Back inside, I looked around the thick haze and felt panic.
Had I ruined the house? Would we have to hire a disaster mitigation company?
We decided we would just have to let the fire die on its own.
So we sat in the smoke and kept playing Scrabble. I tried to focus on the board. Any glance around renewed my panic.
Gradually, the air cleared. The next day, we cleaned out the fireplace, and the house no longer smelled of smoke.
A couple days later, the forecast of another ice storm loomed, but this one was supposed to be much worse — up to a half inch of ice. Maybe even more than that. Trees would buckle everywhere.
I didn’t want a repeat performance of my errors.
Given the age of our house, our fireplace probably originally burned coal, which I once was told meant you could burn a Duraflame log in it but not wood. When I went to the store to find one, it seemed many other people had a similar idea. But I tried other stores and eventually found a box of logs. If the neighborhood was without power for a couple of days, we still would be able to keep warm.
I changed the order of the cars in the driveway so the four-wheel-drive vehicle was in the back.
And Thursday morning I lit a burner on the gas stove (the ignition on the stove is electric, so you can’t light it after the power is out) and kept it on low. Now if the power failed we could heat soup.
We were as ready as we could possibly be for a catastrophic ice storm.
Naturally, nothing much happened. Some ice, but no catastrophe, and it melted by mid-afternoon.
As long as I hold on to the box of logs, I expect the city will make it through the rest of this winter with no significant ice-related outages.