Just before Christmas, last year (2011) while the kids and I were staying with my step-mum in England we got a call at 2am from the charming couple, Deborah and Mark, who were house sitting for us. Our house was on fire, three fire brigades were in the proces of putting it out.
We really were extraordinarily lucky. Deborah had been using the internet and it cut out, so she went up to bed. She was about to put in her ear plugs when she thought she could hear someone walking around on the gravel outside. She woke Mark to go and have a look, he opened the door and saw that the sky was alight. He went around the house and saw that the garage and workshop were burning in a blaze he likened to an Australian Bush fire (Mark is Australian).
Mark went and got Deborah, who tried to call the fireman, but the phone wasn’t working – no electricity. Mark let the dogs and cats out – who were in the very next room to the fire, which they must have been able to see and smell through the molten dog flap. Deborah couldn’t get through on their mobile phones either. (I’m not sure, but I think you must have to dial +33 before 18 on a British mobile phone).
The cause of the fire was the freezer.
Mark then ran across the field to our farmer neighbours, encountering a few electric fences on route. They were just cleaning their teeth and heard him knocking and called the fire brigade. This alone was a huge piece of luck, as I have never managed to wake them up once asleep. No amount of knocking or ringing the phone wakes them.
The other side of the garage wall is our 1300l gas tank – and I think if this had exploded, we probably wouldn’t have had a house to come home to at all. One of the fire brigades had a cherry picker, which they used to cut the beams out of the house wall, which were burning inside in the end wall of the house, and the end of the house beams, which stuck out into the garage, were also alight. According to the fire brigade we were within 5 minutes of the house going up to.
So all in all, we were very lucky to keep our house. People were amazing, especially Tony one of closest friends and our builder, and our plumber, Denis Mennier. By the time we got home a day later, we had electricity, water and heating again.
Fortunately all this happened behind our house and was hidden from view of our rental properties, Gîtes Lily and Poppy.
While it has been annoying not to have had use of our main storage area and the garage, we are so thankful that no one was hurt or worse. That the children were away at the time is another real blessing as they don’t seem to have been traumatized by it at all. They just wanted to explore the debris.
The insurance company, La MAIF, despite normally being very good with car accidents, have been desperately slow with the payouts. I dread to think how we would have coped if the house had also burnt down, since any payments have come through months after they were needed. The first payment took over 5 months to come through. We are still waiting for the final payment.
It has been a real lesson in insurance though. Despite being insured “new for old” – that expression seems to have no meaning – as anything over a certain age was reimbursed at 0% and everything else was based on age. We will get 17000€ less than our actual costs of replacements, and sadly this would seem to be the norm.