When we left for breakfast, I had no idea that in doing so I would just about burn down our family vacation home and nearly kill our dog.

Let me back up.

This past October, Nancy and I were down in Beaufort at the home that my grandparents have owned since about 1950.  I’ve gone there all my life.  We were down for a quick weekend visit, an amazing engagement session, and to check on the house.


It got very cold the night we stayed there, and the heat wasn’t working, so we built up a fire in the wood-burning fireplace, made a pallet in the living room, and slept relatively well.  The fire went out sometime early in the morning.

About 10:00am we got up and started moving around (we stayed up late with some friends), and we got some things packed up and cleaned up before heading out to breakfast.  One thing I went ahead and took care of was the ashes in the fireplace.  I put them in a paper bag, planning to take them to a nearby dumpster with me on the way to breakfast.

As we were gathering up our things to take to breakfast, I sat the bag down on a chair in the breezeway, right next to the door. Grabbing up the other things I needed to put in the car, I forgot the bag of ashes as I walked out, and left it sitting on the chair.

After a leisurely coffee and breakfast at a nearby coffee shop, Nancy and I arrive back to the house about 90 minutes later.  We roll up as a fire truck rolls up, lights and sirens blaring.

Smoke alarms are going off, there’s smoke coming out of the house, and someone’s banging on the door trying to see if anyone’s inside.  I run up yelling, “This is my house!” and unlock the door.  I immediately run inside, because Winston had come down to Beaufort with us, but he didn’t come to the coffee shop with us.


I had left him in the house.

I ran inside to see the scene below.  The pile of black ash was where a piece of furniture used to be, with a large picture hanging above it.  It was the chair I set the ashes on.


I was also greeted by two dense black walls of smoke as I tried to go deeper into the house to find Winston.  The smoke was so dense that I couldn’t see 4 feet in front of me in a room with windows on a sunny day.  At that moment I remember thinking, “How could anything survive in there?”  And how long had it been like that?

I paused to consider my next action when I came to my senses and heard a fireman bellow, “What is he doing?!  GET OUT OF THERE!”  I had just rushed in not even realizing the potential danger.  I don’t think it was bravery, probably just ignorance (not knowing the danger) coupled with anxiety (where’s our dog?!).

As I walked out the door, a fireman in full gear/mask/tank ran inside and I yelled for him to find our dog as he disappeared into the smoke.  I went outside and hugged Nancy, trembling as the gravity of the situation really hit me.  I thought I had killed my dog.

We waited (and cried) outside the house for what seemed like forever, before a fireman stuck his head out the front door, breathing heavy without a mask.

The entire story is too long to share now, so come back for Part 2 tomorrow!