Grateful for Brick Walls

Today you are supposed to open your readers to dizzying parts progress and smack-talk related to the ongoing saga that is my kitchen renovation. Unfortunately, I have none of that for you today.

The past 2 weeks, I have been on India on a business trip. It was awesome. I fully expected to come home brimming with energy and enthusiasm and ready to dive, head-first, back into my kitchen and whip up some progress to show you today.

Monday morning, I landed in JFK to cold and snow. A rude awakening from the warmth and mild breezes of Bangalore & Delhi. Determined to hit the ground running and get back on Eastern Standard Time, I got home, showered, and went into the office.

It was a normal weekday and I was going to treat it as such. By mid-afternoon, the jet-lag was catching up and I succumbed to leaving early in favor of a nap.

That evening, instead of staying home and being productive (as originally intended), I went out. A relatively uneventful evening passed into night. At 12:35am, I get a text from my tenant – “Do you smell smoke?”

15 minutes later, I get a frantic call from my neighbor. CARRIE! 14 IS ON FIRE!!

Not comprehending what she actually meant I asked, “What do you mean 14 is on fire?” “It’s ON FIRE!” came the reply.

Scrambling out the door, into the car, and flying across New Jersey towards a rowhome fire elicits a sinking level of dread which, until that moment, I had been lucky enough to never feel.

See – I live at 16. My immediate neighbor – the home connected to the left side of my house – was on fire. For me, fire is the scariest of disasters for rowhome living. I’ve dealt with noise because of connected living. I’ve dealt with rats. But fire… fire makes all that look like small potatoes.

Fire wiped out large swaths of city homes at the beginning of last century.

Fire, even more than water, is the one thing that can cause incredible amounts of damage in the blink of an eye.

As the trees whip by out the side window of the car, I am steeling myself for the worst.
This is it.
This is going to be bad and there’s nothing I could have done to prevent or stop it.

The boys (dogs) are still at my parents.
My tenant is awake and out of the house.
Everything else?
Well…everything else is just stuff.

With that resolution came a calm that I’m still riding.

Whatever I pulled up to find, it would be ok.

I pulled up to find this:


Big trucks and flashing lights clogging my entire street. Hoses shooting thousands of gallons of water onto the smoldering shell of my neighbor’s house. The water coating everything in a thick layer of black, sooty ice.





The neighborhood convened at the local bar. Checking in. Talking about what happened. Sharing a pint (or 2).

The fire started up on the third floor next door. The house was rented out to a bunch of guys (mostly college aged). Fortunately, all the humans made it out alive. The kid living up on the 3rd floor is lucky to be alive. Sadly, he lost one of his dogs to the smoke & fire.

Hearing that made me even more grateful both my boys are still tucked safely away at my parents.

Because I wasn’t home, the fire fighters smashed in my front door to check the house.


Seeing the door I just spent so much time, money & effort restoring hacked & smashed sucks. I’m fortunate that it wasn’t worse and hopeful it’ll be salvageable.




To make sure the fire didn’t spread across to my home, the fire fighters tore holes in the ceiling of the 3rd floor hall & bathroom.





It’s a mess. There’s plaster, grit, insulation, lath, and dust everywhere. The entire house smells like a campfire.

There is damage to my roof.



And the skylight is destroyed.


But looking next door, it’s easy to remember that it could have been so much worse.


I still have a home to clean up. I still have clothes to bag up and send to the dry cleaner. I still have ceilings that can be repaired and a roof that can be replaced.

The fire fighters and the double layer of brick walls that separate our homes saved me. If this was modern wood stud construction, I would have nothing right now.

I have always loved my brick walls because they’re beautiful. This week, I’m grateful to have them because they saved me from this –

The next few days will be spent managing the initial clean up and getting the insurance ball rolling. Maybe they’ll be some kitchen progress next week.

In the meantime, go check out Sarah and her awesome window casings! I’m going to go kiss my brick walls.

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64 Responses to Grateful for Brick Walls

  1. TEM says:

    Holy Sh*t! O_O

    I saw your Instagram pictures–having lived in rowhouses here in DC, fire was always something that terrified me (and made me very, very angry at the people in my old neighborhood who used to set off fireworks on their roof deck *facepalm*). And currently living in a row of connected four-unit apartment buildings, it still terrifies me. So, so scary!

    I’m glad that everyone is safe, and that you just have some clean up and repairs to do! *hugs*

  2. Emily R says:

    I also live in a brick row house (In Boston) and have an incredibly irrational fear of fire. I have also left work, run home and looked in terror as a house on the other side of the alley was on fire. Thankfully it was small and there was no damage. But being in the South End I fear if one fire got out of hand the entire neighborhood would go up in flames!

  3. Eva says:

    Holy shit, Carrie!

    I’m glad that everyone is safe, and that this happened when you weren’t halfway around the world. But holy hell that all looks like everyone’s worst nightmare.

    Glad you were able to grabs a few pints during the ordeal. (Seriously)

  4. Holy shit! So glad you’re alright and the pups too! Wow.

  5. Cheryl says:

    Wow – amazing how well the brick wall prevented the spread to your house. Firemen can sure make a mess but better safe than sorry. Fingers crossed that your insurance claim is settled smoothly and promptly.

    I just found you since the start of the dueling kitchens and read your entire archives – so glad you (and the neighbors) are OK. Stuff can be replaced and/or fixed – sometimes better than before.

  6. Laura M says:

    Wow! What a mess. Sending good thoughts your way.

  7. Katie says:

    Wow, so glad that everyone is ok and that you didn’t have too much damage! So scary!

  8. kristin says:

    So glad no one was hurt. Sorry pup. 😦 What a mess, yes, and what a crock, but so many other things to be thankful for. And hey, who knows what will come of the insurance money for your repairs. We had a bath in our lower level we were going to do minor fix-ups on. (Ya know–no more seashell sink or wall paper.) Pipes burst and we ended up with a whole new bathroom.

  9. Kelly says:

    Your story brought a lump to my throat. You’ve worked so hard on your house. I’m so glad noone in your household was hurt.

  10. I am so glad that you and your animals are ok and that all of the tenants next door made it out alive. Hopefully, your insurance will pay for the damage in your house, and things will end up even better than before. Even if that is the case, this is horrible, and it is awful that it happened to you. I am so sorry.

  11. OH MY GOD, Carrie! I am so sorry this happened and SO glad you and the boys are safe.

  12. Wow. You weren’t kidding. Without that brick, your house would have been taken too. That video says it all. That fire was raging! I’m so sorry that happened to you. It sucks to be at the mercy of your neighbor’s good sense.

  13. Oh my gosh! I’m glad you and your boys were safe. All the damage in your home can be repaired… that is something to be grateful for. What a welcome home.

  14. Tia says:

    Unbelievable. I’m so sorry this happened 😦 Thank goodness everyone is safe! Suddenly loving of my double brick construction a lot more.

  15. yowsers! visiting from Ugg Duck. So glad you are ok, and the worst is house damage. Yikes!

  16. Carla says:

    So glad your place did not catch on fire. Yes it sucks that your door was bashed but if you or your boys had been in there how thankful you would be. Glad you are safe Carrie.

  17. JC says:

    Wow Carrie, this is just awful news. I’d be so incredibly bummed just over the smashed doors and ceilings, but like you said, at least the house didn’t burn, so it could be worst. I really hope you can get some luck as far as your insurance goes. I’ve heard all kinds of stories, and I hope they can fix things sooner, rather than later. Do you know what’s going to happen next door yet? Is the building salvageable (will they gut that half and rebuild it), or is it going to be torn down? From the photos it’s hard to tell how much damage was caused by the fire.

    I’m really glad you, your tenant, and your pets are fine.

  18. kmliving says:

    Wow….. big shift in direction…. Glad to hear that you think the front door is salvageable. It’s going to be an adventure of another sort to deal with an entire new learning curve.

  19. Carrie Lea says:

    I’m so sorry. It is just stuff, it could be worse, but it’s a headache and heartache and it sucks. My house was damaged by a tornado in May of 2011 so I sort of kind of understand.Teeny word of advice, if insulation touched your clothes, sheets, towels- any cloth that comes in contact with you skin- pitch it and claim it on your insurance.
    I’m so glad your dogs weren’t home. I’m heartbroken for the neighbor’s dog that lost his or her life in the fire. That’s tragic. 😥

  20. guada says:

    hundreds of hugs!

  21. PhillyLass says:

    Oh, how heartbreaking. I don’t know you and I only follow your blog occasionally but I’m tearing up for you (and your neighbors) right now. It must be so devastating to see so much of the house you’ve struggled to restore smashed and damaged. I’m really moved by your attitude of gratitude. I’d be in a weepy heap in a corner. Best wishes for your restoration efforts moving forward!!!! So glad you and your pups are safe!!!!!!

  22. Stinkstankstunk says:

    So terrible! I feel your pain. Really.
    I had shiver inducing deja vu reading this and i knew what each picture was going to look like before i even scrolled down as the same exact thing happened to us at our brick row house in Jersey City 20 yrs ago.
    We had just finished our renovations and were out to dinner to celebrate. We came home to find neighbors sitting on our stoop (guarding the entrance as the antique door had been broken down by the firemen just like yours), and the house next door a completely burned out smoldering shell. (cause: a 5 yr. old kid playing with a lit match dropped it into a comfy sofa)
    Same deal as yours with the plaster ceilings torn open to see if the fire was spreading through the attic. i have almost the exact same pics of the debris covered hallway and filthy stairs.
    I had a german shepherd and a pitbull at the time and the neighbors were kind enough to go in and get them out as the firemen refused to go into the house for fear of being bitten (jersey city’s bravest!). As an added bonus, my wife was nine months pregnant and we were forced to live in the “lovely” hotel next to the holland tunnel for several weeks until things were repaired enough to be livable.
    And while the firemen never actually turned on the hoses and sprayed in our house, when they dragged them up to the 4th floor and applied water pressure, the stiffening of the inflating hoses ripped out 3 floors of 100 year old railings and balustrades and water leaking from the hose couplings flooded our bottom 2 floors and basement. Did you have water damage?
    Don’t know if they’ll do this to yours, but the insurance company brought in a crew who literally “dry cleaned” the entire house to combat the black smoke residue that was on all the walls and ceilings (hazmat devo suits and high-tech swiffers soaked in nasty chemicals).
    It’s gonna suck big-time for awhile, but keep your head up, you really are lucky. Glad everyone is safe.

  23. Meghan says:

    So glad you are okay. It is really scary and overwhelming. I completely understand my apartment burned to the ground when I was in college. Not all humans made it out okay of that fire. I tear up reading your post, I am so sorry you have to deal with that but the good news is that everyone is okay. Rest up, get high appraisals and kiss your tenant for waking you up.

  24. mary says:

    oh my god.

  25. Hi Carrie,

    What a shock. I had a house fire years ago when my daughter was 5. Her bed caught on fire in the middle of the night when an outlet next to her bed started arcing. She woke up because her feet were hot and ran and woke up her dad. When my husband went into the room, it was engulfed in flames. By the time we got the boys out of the house and had called the fire department, there was major smoke damage throughout the entire house.

    While everyone was safe and nothing of any real importance was lost, it was a major pain to clean everything we owned, which we ended having to do twice…once to clean the smoke damage, and a second time to clean up from painters that used old cloth tarps that left minuscule flecks of paint on all of our belongings.

    You will have a big job ahead of you and I’m glad you have those brick walls to protect your home. Best wishes and know that my thoughts are with you.

    ps. I’ve been following the Dueling DIY with my own kitchen and linking up my progress. I have my own brick house to be thankful for.

  26. As a fellow row home owner, fire is my #1 fear. I know, no matter how diligent we are, it’s not entirely up to us.

    I can’t tell you how relieved we are that you and the boys are okay, and that your home survived with relatively minor damage.

    I’m hoping the house next door also gets their insurance ball rolling sooner rather than later, and their work doesn’t impede your fixes.

    But as you said, it’s just stuff, and as long as you’re okay, that stuff can be fixed.

  27. Gum Tree Girl says:

    I’m glad its not worse and I hope the insurance agency handles things quickly. Best of luck.

  28. Ms Pink says:

    Oh no!!!!!
    Glad everyone is OK and that the fire didn’t spread to your side. Had no idea that the FD would cause so much damage to a home that is not on fire, just to check and make sure it is not. I too live in a row house and fire is my greatest fear

  29. Ragnar says:

    Holy cow!
    I can absolutely feel your pain!
    On 21 December 2012 my parents called me home from the spa because there’d been a fire two floors above and water started trickling down through the floors. When I got home (taxi driver going well over 1 1/2 times the speed limit of 50 km/h) water was dripping from the ceiling all over my room. My family had already gotten out my desk drawers with important papers and all the computer stuff from my desk, but the next few hours were a mad dash to take out anything that would get damaged and emptying buckets. For a while we had lights but then the GFI tripped and we had to work with floor lamps. Around 10 PM we thought the trickles were slowing down and the worst was over. Fat chance! The neighbours above had left to sleep somewhere else and once the buckets up there filled up, things progressively got worse again. Fortunately we had their keys, so until 2 PM I went up there every 15-30 minutes emptying tubs, garbage bins and buckets of water into the bath tub. The larger vessels filled up so quickly that they were nearly impossible to carry after half an hour! Working up there was even worse than in my room. Cold stinky sooty water was shooting from the entire ceiling like a giant shower so we had to work wearing hats and jackets and still got soaked. Only a small table lamp in one of the few dry spots gave light (with a long extension cord plugged into our own outlet because the upper floor apartment lost power fairly soon after torrents of water started shooting out of the light fixtures. The stairway was dark as well because the wires in the top floor ceiling had melted after only a few minutes.

    At 2 AM I crashed, fortunately we could stay at my parents’ guest room. Around 5 my mom got up and emptied buckets again but around 7 my brother found an inch of standing water on my wood floor again and again at 9.

    Long story short, my floor had to be replaced (although we could save the oak herringbone and reinstall it), in the apartment above the plaster ceiling in the worst room had to be replaced (I guess it could have been saved but none of the professionals wanted to take the risk of having the ceiling coming down one day after the nails holding up the lath rusted through), the floor was shot (and the “professionals” who took the floor out utterly ruined it).

    I eventually moved back into the room in August 2013 and still don’t consider it 100% done. I put up curtains 2 weeks ago and still have some stuff in boxes. Two adjacent rooms and the hall suffered some paint damage, but that’s harmless.

    I wish you good luck with the insurance company and the contractors! Beware of all-in-one water/fire damage remediation companies! We eventually threw ours out because they did more damage than good and hired our own contractors or did the work ourselves!

  30. stpaulhaus says:

    Yikes! Spooky. Glad you were able to make out relatively unscathed–still, sucks. I am looking forward to watching your progress in the kitchen–its going to be sooo awesome. I’m elbows deep in mine right now too, but I didn’t want to get involved in the dueling business–too. much. pressure. head. explodes.

  31. Bettye says:

    Now you know how to use a mind map to create a blog schedule. You choose one area that you think you can serve the most and focus in most cases on that area.

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