After all the hard work last year (mostly filling the wood shed) there were no major plans. Further, the weather looked to be surprisingly nice: it was suppose to be chilly at night (40's or maybe upper 30's) and warm during the day, with no rain expected. The intent was to have a more relaxing trip. Things changed quickly ....
As usual I drove up Wednesday night arriving by 11:30 PM to open up the Cabin. Once again, driving up late at night made the trip much easier.
Since the Cabin had been used recently, including my usual August trip and a Labor Day trip by Vittoria, Bill, and Frank, it was very easy to open. Everything was clean and the gas flowed quickly to the lights and the refrigerator. I was able to get the fire going and settle in with little effort.
On arrival the temperature was slightly above freezing. The weather forecast suggested that Wednesday night would be the coldest so I had planned on staying in the Cabin the first night. It was clear out and the sky was beautiful. I had the traditional shot of Krupnik and relaxed in front of the fire for awhile to calm down from the long drive. I went to bed on the couch (my standard spot) around 2 AM.
And then disaster struck. Around 3:30 AM I woke up on the couch to smoke filling the Cabin and fire above the fireplace. The Cabin was on fire. At this point I just reacted with most of what occurred a blur. Here is what I remember.
I put on my open toed sandals, grabbed my head lamp and some gloves, and headed for the kitchen door. There are fire extinguishers in the Cabin but the smoke was thick and I just wanted to get out. Fortunately I had hooked up and primed the pump on arrival. Even more fortunately Jon had led the fixing of the well over a year earlier, so there was plenty of water available. I began filling our wash tubs with water, carrying them into the Cabin, and throwing the water on the burning Cabin logs. Doing so led to more smoke inside the Cabin. It became extremely difficult to see and breath. I was pumping water, going outside to cough and breath, going back in to finish pumping water, back outside for fresh air, then carrying the water in barely able to see, tossing the water, getting back outside, and repeating.
Eventually I went outside to look around the chimney. The firebox we had built was burning near the top. The roof was burning near where the chimney pipe came out. Even the eaves had some fire running along them. I began taking water outside and throwing it on the roof. In the process I had to rip off some of the wood, and more so the tin on the roof, to allow the water to get to the burning wood. I even grabbed a ladder from the shed so I could get better access to the roof, in particular the area right behind the chimney pipe.
To make things even more "exciting", at some point while climbing back down the ladder I either slipped on a rung or slipped when I stepped down onto a wet piece of tin. Regardless of the cause, I ended up falling, slightly catching myself, jamming my right thumb in the process, and landed on my face, banging my nose. My thumb was sore and my nose was streaming blood. Thus, while trying to fight the fire I also had to try to stem the flow of blood that was dripping all over the place. Imagine the situation where I am trying to hold paper towel to my nose to contain the bleeding, pumping water, and carrying it both inside and outside to try to get the Cabin logs to stop burning. It was definitely an "exciting" time.
Despite all of this, the fire was put out. At about 4:30 AM I was outside, drenched from water that had splashed on me, wearing open toed sandals, a long sleeved shirt, and sleeping pants, standing in a nearly freezing night. My nose was still bleeding and my thumb was still sore. I was shaking, probably both from the cold and from the adrenalin wearing off. I had not noticed the cold or the pain while fighting the fire.
At this point I began dealing with the situation. I moved my essential gear from inside the Cabin to my car, got changed into dry clothes, and warmed up in my car. I also sent messages to the other people who were planning on coming up. The Kalamazoo crew was planning on leaving at 5 AM. After not hearing from them, I called, they had just finished packing and were getting on the road, thus they had not seen the messages. At this point I did not know the extent of the damage so they turned around to get some tools, a generator, and other supplies they thought they might need. I spent the night in the car waiting for the morning so I could assess the state of the Cabin. I did not get much sleep! The pictures above were the pictures sent to the interested parties taken at dawn. I slept fitfully through the night and part of the morning, waiting for others to arrive.
Philosophical view: Things could have been much, much worse. Of course it is fortunate that I woke up when I did; both being able to get out at all and waking up early enough that the fire was not out of control already. More than that, it could have happened at a far worse time. It could have happened when others were up, particularly with kids up. It could have happened in the winter when it would have been much, much harder to fight the fire, particularly from the outside, and when we would have had no other place to go (no cars) to get warm. Of course in the winter the snow may have helped in some ways, but much of the fire was "under" the roof, even from the outside, so I do not think it would have put itself out. If this was going to happen (and it seems like it was going to, see below) this may have been the best time for it.
Thursday morning started rather chilly: the temperature remained near freezing. After the fitful sleeping I got up and paced along McCloud Grade for awhile soaking up some sun while waiting for the Kalamazoo group to arrive. They arrived around 1:30 PM (I think) and we began taking apart the chimney box to try to understand what happened.
The box was stuffed with rock wool pretty much up to the roof line. Of course none of this burned, it was the area above this that caught fire. As far as we could deduce there were a sequence of events that must have led to the fire. Keep in mind that the insert had been installed in 2019 and has been used many times since then. This includes a number of cold trips where it was extensively used with large fires. Further, we had opened the box during the previous Gentlemen's Weekend to put in more rock wool. Nothing was noticed at that time. Based on all of this we expect the following.
Cleaning up the mess, shoring up the Cabin, and making it usable for the rest of the trip and for the future became the main project for the trip. During the first two days a lot of time was spent on this. The box was cleaned out and taken down along with the chimney pipe. Plywood was put on the roof to cover the new hole. The large holes burnt between some logs were blocked. The fireplace was insulated and closed back up. A tarp was put on the roof.
We also moved the insert from inside the fireplace to where the old wood stove had been. This area has supported a stove for a long time and has a brick chimney which hopefully is safe to use! The insert is shaped differently than the old stove so sticks out a little into the walkway between the main Cabin and the kitchen. Even so, I think this is a far better location for it anyway. I expect much more of the heat it generates will be used to warm the Cabin meaning that we will need to use even less wood. It remains to be seen what the final location will be and/or what the final heating solution will be.
Despite this near disaster and the work required to get the Cabin cleaned up, we were able to keep using the Cabin for the trip and we did have time for other activities.
There was some standard work around the Cabin. Bill put some zinc on the roof. The moss has already grown up on the roof, but maybe this will help moderate its growth and spread. The tree the "Do not enter" sign had been moved to fell down! We took down and processed that tree, and moved the sign to yet another tree. We also finally put up a new buck pole. Not really to use for anything, just to have one in the brackets. Finally, an attempt was made to melt aluminum again. This was done last year and there were some ideas to improve on the process. The fire greatly changed the plans. The attempt was started very late in the day so not much progress was made. Maybe next year.
We did spend a little time exploring the area around the Cabin. There is a new beaver dam being built, an old ruined bridge that has fallen into the river (it is unclear why there was a bridge at all), and there is an old beaver dam on the other side of McCloud Grade very close to the Cabin. Finally, we were able to celebrate Mikey's birthday.
The old woodstove had to be moved, so it is now serving as a side table in the bunk room. The cracked rafter beams in the bunk room were also sistered to strengthen them.
Despite the traumatic start, the trip went great. The Cabin did not seem to sustain much damage. The current location of the insert (outside the fireplace) seems far better to me. It and the Cabin were usable for the entire trip. We expect the temporary repairs on the roof, covering and supporting it, will keep it in good shape over the winter until more permanent repairs are done. I am looking forward to a winter trip!