Needed and Known

Hot and Homeless: What Happens When the Perfect Home Burns Down?

May 31, 2021 Cassandra Roberts Season 1 Episode 1
Needed and Known
Hot and Homeless: What Happens When the Perfect Home Burns Down?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

"Go home. Your house is on fire." She stared at her grocery cart and son in disbelief at the words she heard. How is this possible? She was home just a few hours ago and everything was fine.

When I see a story on the news of a house fire, I wonder what happens next? What would I do if they were my friend or loved one? In this episode, you'll meet Jamie. She will share everything about what happens when a home burns down from insurance phone calls to what your loved ones you actually need.
This episode could be emotionally triggering as she briefly mentions her pets. Listener discretion is advised. 

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Cassandra:

On this episode of needed and known, I'm introducing you to my friend, Jamie, while she was running errands, Jamie's house burnt down. We see stories on the news of homes burning down. And I know I'm not the only one to wonder where did they go and what happens next? Jamie, will share everything from insurance phone calls to what your loved ones you actually need. And it's not anything I thought of as you know, no, I encourage guests to be who they are. So I want to warn you that this episode could be emotionally triggering as she briefly mentions her pets. Listener discretion is advised. Can you tell us a little bit about buying your first home?

Jamie:

Yeah, so it was a long process. It took us about four years to be able to go through the entire process, saving up getting credits getting approved, finding a house, being able to get an offer in and a house. The whole thing, you know, we didn't come from backgrounds that kind of gave us that foundation. So it was just. Learn as we go. It was one of those things that I told my husband, I want to be a homeowner. And he looked at me like, I was crazy. Like, we're never gonna own a house. Like we don't do that. You know, we're paycheck to paycheck people. And I was like, no, this doesn't make sense. So it was a huge goal and it took forever. We actually ended up using a first-time home buyers program in our County because we couldn't get approved by ourselves. So it was a long process. And then even buying the house, people were like, no, the process is going to take too long. We're not going to accept your offer. There's too many what ifs. And so it was a long time. So this was like, when we found our house, it was like, this is it. We made it like this. Everything came to life. So it was super exciting for us. And it was something that we didn't expect for ourselves previously, nobody around us expected. And it was, I don't know, we just kind of did it.

Cassandra:

That's awesome. Can you tell us a little bit about your home?

Jamie:

It's. Modest it's small it's in a subdivision, a cookie cutter community, three bedrooms, two bathrooms. Very small for us. We have four kids. My husband had three before we got married. Now we added another one. So there are six of us in the house. And then my mom kind of jumped along. So it's crowded. There's a lot of us in it. But it's happy. So it's like our peaceful spot. It's everything we liked it's got a lot of light in it. It's concrete black, it's got high ceiling. So all of those things, we're like, Oh, it's like what we would have pictured if we could have, I guess, had a choice, not like we really had much of one when we were shopping, but it was like, when we saw that it was like, this is it. This is the one. So but it's happy and it's peaceful.

Cassandra:

That's awesome. Okay. So what happened one day you're shopping at target and everything changed with a phone call?

Jamie:

Yeah. Yeah. So I'll give a little bit of context before that we have a stove that had been acting up. There was a couple of times that I came into the kitchen. Once I came from out of town, we hadn't even been in the house and I was like, I started smelling something. I'm like, what's going on? And the stove was on, but we hadn't cooked. And I'm like, That's weird, but I didn't really think anything of it. So I started getting in like this OCD habit of checking everything, touching all the burners is this on all the time, because I started becoming paranoid. So I was actually at a doctor's appointment that morning. And after my doctor's appointment, I went to target with my son and we were just kind of browsing the aisles. And my mom called me and she was like, Have you talked to anybody, have you been home? I'm like, no, I'm at target. And she said, well, I keep on getting these phone calls. I think they're prank phone calls. And somebody is saying that your house is burning down and I'm like, Why are you getting calls? Because she didn't, she didn't nothing links her to here. She slept here, but all of her mail goes somewhere else. And she has an out-of-state phone number. It doesn't make sense to call her. So she's like, it's probably just a prank call. I have your uncle go over there because he lives down the road. And so she called me back about 15 minutes later, she was like, no, you need to go home right now. The fire departments at your house. And I don't even know what you can think at that time I grabbed my son. I left the cart with all the groceries, which is like such an irresponsible, not me. Right. And ran out of the store. I must've looked like I was probably robbing the place, the speed I ran out of there and got home as fast as I could. I was doing like a hundred, like my mind was blank. I mean, I couldn't even think of anything. What is, what does this mean? The fire departments at my house, like. That's never a scenario in all of my overthinking that I ever thought of.

Cassandra:

It sounds like you were just following your last direction. Your mom was like, go home and you were like, I have to go home. My house is burning down. Goodbye groceries, like going straight out the door.

Jamie:

Yeah. So it wasn't until I was on the interstate, my husband called me. He was like, I just got a call from your uncle. What's going on? I was like, I'm on my way home right now. And he, the worst timing ever, he just blurted out. He's like, Oh, the pets are dead. And I was like, Driving like, this is the wrong time to tell me, what are you talking about? How do you know? He was like, I don't know. He just told me. And I was like, how does he? And I was just like, Saying nothing all the way home. My son's in the back, mommy, what's wrong. And I couldn't even get words. I pull up to my house and there's fire trucks there and it's a big scene and there's people down my street and I'm like, what's going on? And I'm looking on the outside of my house and I'm going. I thought they said there was a fire.

Cassandra:

Oh. So you can't even see anything.

Jamie:

Not from where I was. So our kitchen is where it started and that was a further back behind the garage. So if I would've seen the sides of the house that weren't covered up by neighbors, trees, I would have been like, Oh, okay. Like windows are blown out. Things like that. But from the front end, like other than that, all the windows looking really smoky. It's fine. Like the house is right there. So they wouldn't let me go in. At first they had to finish everything. And so he was probably about an hour before I actually stepped in. And in the meantime it was like the firefighters gave me a bag, like a trash bag. And they were like, yeah, these are your pets. Here you go. I'm like, cool. What do I do with this? Like, I don't even know what's going on at this point. Like processing, like thanks, dude. Merry Christmas you too. And when we finally went inside, it was just like, This is not what you expect a fire to look like, but it's also not what you expect your house to look like.

Cassandra:

So what did it look like?

Jamie:

When you walk in the front room? So we have a big open area, kitchen living room, dining room area, and it was dark. First of all, there was no electricity to the house. The roof, like the ceiling, I guess not the roof completely in. There was,

Cassandra:

was it dark outside?

Jamie:

No, it was light outside, but it had gone all the way to the rafters, but all of the windows. Yeah. All the windows were smoked over. So there was like soot, like a layer of soot and there was no lights inside and all you could see is just what was coming in from the door that had been kicked in. And it was just, the ceiling was down on the floor, insulation everywhere, chard everything, all my kitchen cabinets, half the ceiling, everything just on a big Ash pile. And I was just like, what? And then on top of that, it was wet, which is something I wasn't expecting. But when the firefighters came in all the water, so it was like flooded city floating. Insulated ashy mess. And I was like, this is my house, but it's not my house. Like I see part of my kitchen table is still there, but this isn't, it is, but it's not, it was like a weird, like this radiation. Yeah, exactly. Like I'm walking through this, like not fully grasping that it's mine. Yeah, I guess so it was, it was very weird. And then going, you know, Back through like the hallway, the kitchen, like the kitchen was gone. Yeah, just having to step over things. And it was just like, it's crazy. And the smell, it smelled like burnt Tupperware, like just permeating. And I'm just like, what just happened? I was just here like six hours ago. It was wild

Cassandra:

that is so wild because it's so fast, right? It's not like. You know, w we grew up with hurricanes. So you got like days warning. There's water. Come in. It's going to be windy. You can prepare. It's like it's a matter of hours.

Jamie:

Exactly. And speaking of hurricane, that is actually why the things that did kind of make it through, made it through. It happened about just a couple of days after hurricane Irma. So that was projected to come straight to Tampa. And I'm a planner. So I bought all of these super heavy duty like plastic locking containers and everything that I thought, well, you know, if my roof comes off, these are the things that are going to protect my things. So they were all still in there because we were spared from Irma. We never even lost power, but For this and apparently protected against heat against soot against water, against everything. So all my photos like my son's baby book, my jewelry, like all the things that you're like if I ever, you know, had to run into my house at the last minute, these are the things I would take. Those were all in those plastic bins. So those honestly, if it weren't for the hurricane, all of that would have been gone.

Cassandra:

That's crazy. What room were those things in? Like where they, they were away from the fire. I'm assuming they were out of the kitchen or

Jamie:

they were out of the kitchen. They were back in my room, but in my rooms at the end of the house. So it's kind of like a long floor plan where like, it kind of goes along and and like, What does that hallway? So like, what is the word? So it's at the end of that, but what happened was, and we didn't know, not something I would foresee is that when all of the firefighters came in, because we have these high ceilings, when they sprayed all the water in them, Within the next day or two, all of the ceilings came down in the house. Is there anything that happened? Yup. Anything that wasn't wrecked in the house became ruined. So it was just, it collapsed on to everything. It was a mess, but everything was safe because the soot when The air conditioning, I guess, was running through the whole thing. So it took all of the smoke from the kitchen and covered everything in the house. So everything in every room was covered in a layer of soot and then of course water. And then within the next couple of days, the ceilings on top of it, water, mushy mess everywhere. So, but the pictures, the important things that I would like. Really want to cherish. All of those were protected, like amazingly. Yeah. And if it weren't for the hurricane, it would've wouldn't have been so,

Cassandra:

so, okay. So your house burns down, you've got your pictures. What do you do that first night? Where do you like? I I've always wondered. Okay. Now these people you're, you, you have no place to sleep. Arguably, do you stay with a family member or do you, what do you do? What did you do?

Jamie:

We ended up staying in a hotel. We you're trying to figure that out as well, because we don't really, we were the stable ones. Like people stayed at our house and people were staying at our house because of Irma because they didn't have power. And so we're like, where are we going? Nobody has power. And nobody has room and we don't really have money to go to these places. So our insurance ended up putting up us in a hotel for two weeks, and that's where we stayed at. We walked in there looking like a bunch of bums covered in soot and smelling like smoke. And that was home. That was the new home.

Cassandra:

So you were there for two weeks. What's high level. We don't have to get into the details, but I'm a nerd. And I think the people listening are probably nerds. If they're listening to this w what high-level overview, what happens with your insurance? So you're like, At what, what, at what point did you call, were you like, well, I'm standing at my house and it's burning down. Are you like soaking it up after going, Oh my God, I have to call insurance. Like how, what happened?

Jamie:

In fact, I was the first one. I had a metal file container with all of my, you know, also locking and everything with all of my important documents, had everything in there because of the hurricane. And. As soon as I got to the house, I was like, we have to call our insurance company because aren't you supposed to let them know immediately? Like I took it a little bit too, literally that within, within two hours of being at the house, I found the paperwork. I called them. I filed the claim. And yeah, so basically they had an adjuster come out, but it ended up being weeks later because of Irma. They were so backed up. They basically said, well, you can stay in the hotel for two weeks. And then after that, we can't cover it anymore. So you need to find a place to live. And good luck and they kind of just left it up to us. So we ended up staying almost an hour away. They were like, just to find somewhere, find somebody that will rent to you find somewhere furnished because we're not going to pay for furnishings, like find all of these things. And it's up to you now because you can't stay in the hotel anymore. And we did. We moved in, I bought an hour away and stayed there for two months. And then right before Christmas, we had to get out because it was kind of like an Airbnb. And they were like, yeah, we have people coming. So you got to get out. And there was nowhere else to find because of course it's Christmas in Florida and there's nowhere. So we ended up going to see my dad for like a week and a half I'm in Wisconsin. We're like, Ooh, we have nowhere to go. So let's make a vacation out of it. And we did, and we came back, rented another house. And then went back to a hotel again and then finally made it back home after six months.

Cassandra:

So you were out of your home, was it about six months from burn to move back in

Jamie:

just over six months? Yeah.

Cassandra:

Okay. Wow. So that's like. Building a new home. That's how long that takes

Jamie:

essentially. And we moved in. It wasn't even completely finished yet, but our insurance had run out. So we were like, yeah, y'all better have our house kind of ready. And they did. And they continued working on it for about another six months.

Cassandra:

So what else did they do? What else did they have left to do when you moved in?

Jamie:

They still had electrical stuff to, to left. They still had like all of the trimming and like finishing and all the little things. Like backsplashes some more tile work, things like that, but it was like able to be lived in while they did all these things. We just kind of had to work around people for the next several months.

Cassandra:

Did you just rebuild the exact same floor plan?

Jamie:

Exactly. So when the home burned down, it was down to the studs basically is how we had to tear it all down. So the foundation is the same. The garage is the same. The studs are the same, everything else is brand new.

Cassandra:

Gotcha. So I'm asking all these like nerdy questions, but now I'm like, okay, so wait, are you paying for your rental and your mortgage at the same time?

Jamie:

No. So the insurance there's a portion of the insurance called ale. So that covers yes, very important to have, as it turns out, I had no idea what it was, but that covers your living expenses. When you're out of your house due to a claim always get extra. We found out that's why we had to move back in our house because we were approaching the six month Mark and we were out of funds. So for the last. Month or so old that was out of pockets. So thankfully it took us about that long where, you know, but yeah, we still to pay the mortgage and then thankfully they covered most of that living expense.

Cassandra:

Okay. Okay. Well, that's a kick in the teeth, but I mean, yeah. That's what happens? My goodness. Okay. So it's been a little bit cleansing for you cause you had stuff because the environments that we come from, everybody saves everything. Cause we're scared. We're not going to have more And you might need that one day. I feel like that's the most common phrase in my family is why do you never know? You might need that one day. It's a dollar. I can replace it for a dollar, like it's going to be okay. So what happens, like what sort of cleansing happened with that for you?

Jamie:

So immediately, it was, it was the shock of not having anything like having to go to Walmart and buy a new toothbrush should not like not having the smallest things that you take for granted too, being angry to all of a sudden, one day I was like, I called my dad. I'm like, you know what I feel okay about this. Like, I have made peace with losing everything and I realized that I don't need these things in order to continue my life. I've had them. I haven't had them for a month now. And I'm still okay. I'm still thriving. I'm still living my life. So I made my peace with that. And so now that we're back in here, it's kind of like, well, we can appreciate things and we can have things, but I don't let things have us, if that makes sense. So. It's easier to kind of like let these things go rather than to be so attached to them. Like I was before, because we were very much like that, like, Oh, we might need this, you know, weird thing that you can probably find a dollar tree, but we don't might not have the extra dollar next week to go get it. So I'm going to go store this away in the garage. I'm going to store this under the bed. It's kind of given me a different mindset of what is really needed what's wanted and what's just extra. And now all the extra stuff makes me very anxious. Yeah. I don't to hear it. Like, I don't want it

Cassandra:

and that's, that might not be everybody's experience, but that was your experience just because. That you, it sounds like you kind of already had that in the back of your mind as like, well, I'm, you were wrestling with it maybe. And so it was like a forced cleansing of stuff.

Jamie:

Definitely. Cause it's always one of those things like, Oh one day I'm going to get rid of all this and I'm going to be, you know, comfortable enough. But I was never at that point that I could just be so reckless to be like, yeah, let me throw it all away. And just hope that I'm good for tomorrow or next week.

Cassandra:

Right. Okay. So switching gears, if someone's recently lost their home, what would you say to them?

Jamie:

This is one of the things that it's. It's so nice to say, Oh yeah, let me know if you need anything. And it's great. But I also feel like it's kind of empty because there were a lot of people that said that to me. And so when I tried to call upon them, it was like, Oh yeah, but I'm busy this week or, yeah, I can't really do that right now. And for me, it was having somebody to watch my son because I had to come back to the house. I had to try to pick through items if we tried to save something and I didn't have anyone to even. Keep him company at the hotel. So I could do that without exposing him to all this. So it was just little things that I didn't feel like people were really there. Like when they say, Oh yeah, let me know if you need anything. So I feel like if somebody, you know, has experienced something traumatic, let them know how you can help. If you aren't able to be there completely, whenever they need to. To have somebody for them, let them know, Hey, if you need a meal, let me know, and I can cook it. Or if you need a gift card here, something to, you know, McDonald's or whatever the case may be let them know specific ways that you can be there for them. Or if you are going to kind of give them a, let me know if you need me live up to it, just kind of be there and understand that they're not going to be okay to talk about it right away and answer all the questions and kind of go through that whole. Traumatic process that sometimes I don't, I couldn't even form full sentences. I don't think for a couple of weeks afterwards, I was just like in zombie mode, like, I don't know. So just being there, honoring your word, honoring your commitments, and I guess having concrete ideas of how you can assist. I think those are all really important things.

Cassandra:

I think that's really great advice. I'm I. I'm good at thinking of some ideas, but I can't think of all the ideas. So I'm wondering if it would be helpful for me to say, like, what, what are your, like, what are your next steps so that I can figure, is that something that I could ask? Like, what are, what are you doing next? And how can I support you?

Jamie:

I think that's really nice to have too, because you're getting that feedback in that, putting somebody in the moment, because I would get calls or texts like, Hey, what do you need right now? Or what are your kids need? And I'm like, well, I'm living out of hotel, so I really don't even have any room for anything. But thank you for asking, because people would be like, Oh, you can have some clothes or here's my kid's old toys, but it's more about, and it comes from a good place. I'm sure. But in, you know, my reaction where I'm like, I can't take anything else. I don't have room for it. There are six of us in hotel room, you know? We can't take it, then it comes off more offensive. Like, Oh, I tried to offer her something and it, you know, she didn't even want it when it's not that at all. It's like, I'm not in a position to appreciate what you're trying to do for me right now. So yeah, I think a very good thing would be to ask somebody what is coming up so I can help you. And be kind of part of that process rather than just putting somebody on the spot. Like, what do you need right now at this moment at nine 53 and a Tuesday? You know, how can I help you right now? Because chances are, somebody's going to have no idea.

Cassandra:

That's really good advice, Jamie, I think I, I appreciate you sharing such a hard time because you're naturally just a pretty positive and upbeat person. And so but I know during this time that I think that's probably why you were. Zombie like, cause you're like, my brain does not process these sorts of things that are happening. I'm looking for the logic and the rationale. And there is no, there is no rationale. It's just something that happened. And so I love, I love that you were willing to share that because it's a, it is a really intimate story. How long ago, how long ago was the fire now?

Jamie:

It was three years ago, last month.

Cassandra:

Okay. Oh, wow. So it's still really fresh. I mean, relatively speaking, I mean, I could say that in 30 years would be like, it wasn't that long ago

Jamie:

it was a life time ago, but it was also just yesterday. So it's, there's, there's both of those kind of going on at once.

Cassandra:

Yes. So crazy. Awesome. And I appreciate the like knowing what we can do, because I I'm, again, one of those people that's like, I think I like, I'm happy to help. I just don't even know what that means.

Jamie:

And I think I'm the same way as well. I've changed the way I try to react to people going through something, whether it's a death, whether it's through a, a breakup or a, you know, something traumatic like this it's. It helps me to help them in a way just to know that wow. Every time I say that it's kind of empty because Oh yeah. Let me know if you need me. But I'm not actually there if you need me. So it's helped me to become better in that way.

Cassandra:

I'm so happy to see you. And I look forward to talking to you soon. I'll see you later.

Jamie:

All right. Thank you so much.

Cassandra:

Okay, bye bye. When Jamie described the importance of making specific offerings and following through, I was nodding like crazy. I love that. She talked about giving people space to process their grief and trauma. Instead of asking too many questions. Thank you for being a great listener and making Jamie feel needed and known. Want to talk more between episodes? Follow me on Instagram @neededandknown until you need me next time. Bye.

Introduction
The Perfect Home
The Phone Call
Where's the Fire?
Hurricane Saved Us
Sleeping After the Fire
Insurance Questions
I'm Not a Material Girl
Showing Up for a Friend in Trauma
Hanging Up