Flood, Fire & Locusts, Part Three

Click below to read:
Part one
Part two

We PhilBillPaul and the kids spent the Summer of 2006 renovating the basement.

I’m the first to admit that I like to leave home during any home improvement project begins and come home when it’s over. For many years, this has served our marriage well.

But it was obvious if I left for a long weekend, the project would not be complete. Darn.

So I made myself as useful as possible. I’m very good at picking out colors and I don’t second guess my choices. After the floods and our thorough research we decided to dye our concrete basement floor. It’s all the rage in new homes and the technique has been used in restaurants and commercial buildings for years. I didn’t really care about trendy, I cared that if there was ever water in the basement I wouldn’t have to smell or walk on squishy carpet pad.

So I got busy picking out the floor dye color and wall paint color scheme.

Someone had to do it while the manual labor work force did their jobs.

First I want to give proper credit to the hardest working basement laborer we had on our crew (next to PhilBillPaul).

RL working

Roger Leroy put in many hours chiseling the linoleum off the concrete and it took many days. I think we bribed her with cash.

RL working 2

Mr. Handy got all the mold cleaned out and replaced the dreaded drywall with his usual fastidious workmanship. He really should be a contractor. I think he missed his calling.

drywall and spackle

Hey! Who is that spackler?

Oh my gosh, it is The Grunter and he actually put in at least 15 minutes complaining about the horrible job he was assigned.

The Grunter spackling

We’re all about life skills so Dad taught his daughters how to use a floor buffer. Because who knows when they’ll need to operate one of these beastly machines that can injure you?

Floor cleaner

This is actually when I intervened and called the flooring company and got the name of someone I could hire to prepare the concrete and dye it for us.

I’m telling you being married to Mr. Handy is exhausting. And a project of this size was creating some serious family tension.

We were all exhausted and I just wanted it to D-O-N-E!

Which brings us to Labor Day weekend 2 years ago.

A nice young man who had dyed many floors for the commercial flooring company we purchased our supplies from came to the house and spent the day cleaning the floors to prepare them for the dye.

He did an excellent job and planned to let the floors completely dry with our dehumidifier and fans running through the night and then return to dye the floors on Saturday.

We were instructed to tape the walls with the two feet of heavy duty plastic to protect the trim and the walls from overspray. PhilBillPaul jumped right back into work mode and got all the rooms ready.


I did my part by writing a note and taping it on the bathroom wall offering helpful suggestions.

prep bathroom

Unfortunately for us, our hired man had a wife who went into early labor and he was at the hospital all day. We realized all the work he did preparing and cleaning would go to waste if we didn’t get the dye sprayed on the floor.

It was our original plan anyway – we had bought all the supplies including the special sprayer designed specifically for using the acetone-based dye products and a full face respirator because of the strong fumes.

I now present you with…

…one of my least favorite…

… photographs…

…of myself…

of all time.


Roger Leroy captured our preparation and my fashion sense on camera.

Yes, that is a tank top, sweat pants and plastic bags on my feet. At the very last minute, PhilBillPaul said I should put on long pants so the dye overspray wouldn’t get on my legs. I ran upstairs and had his nylon sweatpants in my hand when I spied those old thick cotton ones and put them on instead. This is important information and you will learn why in just a moment…

The full face respirator was an excellent purchase but we only had one. I actually argued that I was a much better painter and I should spray the floors. Obviously, I won.

I sprayed the bathroom, the guest bedroom, the hallway, two closets and the main room. I was literally minutes from being completely done at the base of the stairs that lead to our main level. PhilBillPaul came in to check on my progress and prime the pump on the sprayer so I could finish.

All doors were off their hinges and stacked in our garage – hey, I just remembered, I painted all the doors. I did do more than pick out the paint and floor colors!

I stood in front of his workroom doorway, the only room we were not spraying with the dye, and in split second it seemed that FIRE was shooting from the sprayer. There was a huge whooshing sound and we were both covered in FLAMES.

Yes–we do know “stop, drop and roll.”

But no one had ever said what to do if the entire floor was on FIRE. Because the floor in every room was freshly sprayed with acetone dye, the flash fire happened more quickly than I can describe.

I remember very little except shrieking and running to the outside door. Which had been opened. And was now shut and PhilBillPaul could not get open as we stood together in flames.

I’d like to think we would have been smart enough to have jumped out of the bathroom window that was also open (with a fan in the window) but when you are in a crisis and standing in front of a door that should open, you are not thinking clearly.

He gave it one last pull and by the grace of God, the door opened and we both ran to the grass not fully realizing that the acetone fumes had created an explosion in our basement that actually shook the next door neighbor’s house.

This is what we think started the fire.


One spark from an UN-plugged dehumidifier that had run all night and was facing me in that workroom doorway. Much like an electric burner that is no longer bright red, I believe there was a hot spot in the unit and a static spark ignited our basement.

All three girls were upstairs watching TV. They handled themselves with amazing grace and quick thinking. They weren’t even sure what happened when the upstairs door blew open and made the house shake. They grabbed the dog from his crate and the portable phone and ran outside.

Wizzy took care of Scary Baby and our new puppy.

Roger Leroy met me in the backyard with 911 on the line trying to explain that something happened in the basement and there was a fire.

PhilBillPaul had work boots on and long shorts because he wasn’t spraying the dye. He actually went back in and put the fire out with an extinguisher in the garage (that was normally in the basement – we have one on every floor and always have) before the fire trucks and paramedics arrived.

He is my hero. Seriously, he saved our house and he saved our lives.

The aftermath showed signs of how the fire remained close to the floor and charred the door frames and melted the plastic into a hard string across the main room. The white powder is residue from the fire extinguisher.


PhilBillPaul learned from one of the firefighters that we were incredibly lucky that he got the door open because the metal door actually blew shut so hard that it broke siding on the house and was now crooked in the door frame.

door frame

We spent a week in bed and do not take the many miracles that literally saved our life for granted.

An endless stream of food arrived for two solid weeks and neighbors and friends shuttled the kids to wherever they needed to be. The sense of community and love that covered us was incredible. Since neither of us have any family near by, it made an even more significant impact on our lives. The kindness of people overwhelmed us and our gratitude was heartfelt.

When all was said and done, PhilBillPaul has said over and over again that it was simply an accident – plain and simple. There was no one to blame and we never did. The owner of the flooring company came out personally and finished the floor himself and, in spite of this mini disaster, we do love the finished product.

workroom door

This is the small area that I hadn’t completed when the explosion happened.

Escape route

This is the finished floor and the hallway to the outside door that almost didn’t open.

That full face respirator along with safety glasses saved my face from being burned. One eyebrow and my eyelashes were burned off but otherwise okay. Those ugly cotton sweatpants and cotton socks saved my legs and feet with the exception of one foot where the top of my sock melted off. If I had worn his nylon pants, they would have melted on to my legs. The tank top – not such a good choice but those heavy duty gloves partially protected me. My most severe burns were on my arms from my elbows to my shoulders.

No pictures of our severe 2nd degree burns.

Instead I will end Part Three with these pictures of Roger Leroy who said she really wanted to see her dad’s burned legs. I said NO. Do not look.

I told PhilBillPaul not to show her. There was no reason for her to see. But she insisted.

RL reaction

Why won’t anyone ever listen to me?

Whew, thanks for getting all the way to THE END of the fire story. I’m exhausted again from retelling it.

Click here to see pictures of the completed basement in all its glory.