Burning Down the House–The Story of My Tugboat Man and Fire Drills

pier-1-scented-seashell-candlesI love candles. I have candles covering virtually every surface in every room of our home.

I don’t light candles while my tugboat man is gone.

Not anymore.

There’s a very good reason for this.

I almost burned our house down and my husband’s firefighting training was the only impediment to potential disaster.

One very tranquil evening last spring after dinner, I lit every candle in the bathroom adjoining our bedroom and proceeded to take a leisurely shower. There were candles on the countertop, candles on the bamboo shelf above the toilet, and candles on another floor shelf unit.

Normally I extinguish them when I’m finished, but this time I didn’t because the room looked and smelled so lovely.

Wearing a black silk kimono and feeling quite frisky (if you know what I mean) I went out to the family room and snuggled up on the sofa to watch the Daily Show with a glass of merlot and hubs.

After a bit, he took the remote and muted the sound.

He cocked his head like he was listening for something (he looked very puppy-like and cute LOL) and said,

“Do you hear that?”

Me: “Hear what?”

Him: “I think I hear something in the bedroom, or wait, did you leave the water on?”

Me: “No, I didn’t. What do you hear?”

Him: “You’re not making popcorn, are you? Do you smell anything?”

Me: “Nooo….no popcorn, I can’t really smell –wait, I do kinda hear something, I wonder what… ”

Suddenly, he takes off running toward the bathroom and I stand up but I swear, I’m totally paralyzed, I can’t move a muscle to follow him or anything.  (I’m not a real take charge kind of girl in any emergency. I’m the one whose limbs turn to stone. I don’t react. Don’t count on me.)

So…the next thing I hear is a lot of “Oh sh***t” and “F**k F***K F***K F***K!!” and things crashing, and for a split second I think someone broke in and they’re fighting.

It was soooo crazy.

I’m still standing two rooms away and my feet are like in cement; I mean I know I should DO something, but I just can’t. I can’t even move to the phone to call 911 or anything.

Then I heard the sound of the shower being turned on and sizzling sounds. I was finally able to triumph over my fears and pry my feet loose, and tiptoed toward the bathroom.


What I saw was a disaster. The bathroom was filled with smoke; smoke was beginning to fill the house (later we figured out that the smoke alarm’s battery had died.)

My personal fireman hero was soaking wet — apparently the noise I heard were his huge biceps ripping the engulfed in flames bamboo shelf off the wall and tossed in the shower. What a hero! He had the presence of mind, not to mention the strength, to prevent a major tragedy.

As you might imagine, fires on boats are a potential catastrophe, and professional mariners constantly train and drill in the event of a fire in the engine room or anywhere else on board. I know that my mariner takes it very seriously, and I am SO glad.

Watching him in action was very reassuring (and VERY sexy).

Here’s what happened…

One of the candles was on the bottom shelf of the bamboo unit above the toilet and next to the shower. The heat from the flame ignited the shelf right above it, which also had a candle going, and that in turn ignited the shelf above that and finally the whole thing was ablaze with foot-high flames, searing the ceiling, coating it in a horrible black smoky sooty mess. The ceiling stayed too hot to touch for hours, and it was just plain luck that the attic didn’t explode in flames; it was that hot.

The burning bamboo set off little flaming arrows of fire all over the bathroom, burning the floor, the rug, and everything it touched. Cleaning the bathroom was a nightmare. There was congealed candle wax covering every surface, including the shower and the countertop, the sink, the mirror, and even the ceiling. It took forever to scrape it off.

The burnt bamboo shelf

burned shelf

This wasn’t my first brush with a candle-related disaster, however.

We have an entertainment unit in the family room that has beautiful glass shelves.

entertainment unit

I lit a candle on the bottom shelf (déjà vu, right?) and left the room (déjà vu again, right?) and we heard a sound like an explosion, ran in, and found shattered glass everywhere. The shelf must have heated up and cracked. Wow.  Everything on the shelf crashed and broke, too.

The replacement shelf had to be custom-made, and the expensive lesson learned that time was not to light any candles under glass shelves.

But I guess I didn’t learn the ENTIRE lesson or I surely wouldn’t have walked away from a roomful of candles!

I am ever so grateful that hubs did not bring up the previous incident as I felt bad enough without being reminded of my carelessness.

So…it’s no surprise that I avoid any candle lighting until my personal fireman is here.

Before he leaves to go out to sea, he forces me to perform –fire drills. (Head OUT of the gutter, people!) I think it’s more to make him feel better about leaving and hoping that I have the tools and knowledge to act appropriately  in an emergency.

Well, that’s probably not going to happen.

The fire extinguisher is in the garage, and I know he’s shown me a zillion times how to make it work, but I don’t remember a single thing he says. Considering that my response time isn’t so good, the darn thing is heavy and unwieldy and it’ll be next to impossible to react at all when my feet are pinned to the floor, unable to move — I guess I’ll have to be content with a picture of a candle until he comes home.



59 thoughts on “Burning Down the House–The Story of My Tugboat Man and Fire Drills

  1. Wow, you’re very lucky it wasn’t worse! That’s so scary. I have decided not to light candles when I’m alone anymore because I have an unfortunate tendency to forget about them. 3 times in 10 days, I’ve had to run back home because I suddenly remembered I hadn’t extinguished them before going out. Candles: pretty but dangerous.


      • Good for you! You guys are a team! I’ll have to tell you how a whole house burnt down that I was living in when I was 19, in Stockton (a squat). My GF at the time lent some dude a candle and gave him an Indian hanging for his bedroom, and of course the two items just got too close and frazzled the whole place down… I might still be there had that not happened and not met my wife, so sometimes fire changes lives. I nearly died in a fire at 3 years old too, the boiler blew-up under the stairs. Fire is not really my element of choice, so it’s great to hear a positive outcome for once. You guys must have had a good time remodeling!


  2. Scary! I had a pan of oil go up in flames once. I stared at it in shock while my husband ran over, grabbed it, and took it outside. I’m not the one you want in case of emergency, either.


  3. Nooooo, Stockton was not the place I wanted to be stuck in. So dang hot! And really, apart from BJ’s , there was nowhere to eat! Had a very funny episode in a nightclub too , well not THAT funny. I was very impressed that the 15 girls on the dance floor seemed to all be dancing in a line for ME ( perhaps I should not have gone to be the only one dancing on my own and high on a dancefloor in Stockton, somehow…). I realized when their frightening dikey pimp came to have a ‘chat’ with me at the bar what the whole thing was about. I was not up for her haggling and she told me I was a disgrace and should leave the town. Somehow, i did.


      • Well, not sure that accounts for ALL my life’s success, but definitely for meeting my wife in San Francisco. I had to go through 4 years of pretty grueling stuff before I met her though and an awful break-up. I left my work in Stockton because of an ultimatum over wages. Really just a way of not entirely taking responsibility for the decision to leave to go back to said ex in Sacramento.


  4. Your husband sounds like a handy guy to have around! Glad it was under control quickly. And getting a remodeled bathroom out of the deal isn’t entirely bad. Though I wouldn’t recommend those means as prelude to a remodeling project. 😉


      • Now I’m rethinking my own love of candles. I’m notorious for walking away and forgetting about them, but I usually don’t stress over it because all mine are in glass jars. Hubby has FITS every time he finds one…


      • Watch where you put them for sure! Some of mine were in glass containers but on the bamboo shelf, it just heated up the shelf above it til it exploded in flames! Plus some of the glass containers also got too hot and cracked! which meant there was hot molten lava wax dripping everywhere. A bit mess, but not a disaster.

        On Wed, May 1, 2013 at 12:45 PM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


  5. I am so terrified of fire that I rarely burn candles, because I’m afraid I’m going to leave them lit and burn down the house! We only light them in the bedroom occasionally. That is such a scary situation-so glad you had such a wonderful hero hubby to take care of the situation!


  6. I thought I was really grown up when I first owned my house. But that was nothing compared to owning my first full size fire extinquisher. I showed my children how to useit if there was a fire.
    Recently, I wen to move it aside to get at a tool box, and it was as light as feather. The damn thing was empty. I later discovered that my boys had emptied the entire thing in the garden because they were bored. Thank goodness the 9Volt PP3 batteries do not fit into the exbox controller or we’d have no working smoke alarms either.

    Well done on the candle crisis! Be careful. 🙂


    • Oh that is sooo funny! But good that you noticed it before you needed it. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t retain any of the fire drills he put me through but at least I know where it’s located! And we updated and increased all of our smoke detectors after that–he’s very diligent, prob why he’s such an amazing capt and port captain. Always prepared!

      On Wed, May 1, 2013 at 1:07 PM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


  7. No, I’m in London working on a project for a Uni in CA. Glad to be here,it’s so different from the US. I do miss being back home though. I’m from the Sierra Foothills originally. Love your blog BTW.


  8. It’s amazing to get to see all the culture; galleries, museums, the parks. My wife is originally from London too, so I have some folk back here. How does the DIL like it there?


    • She’s been here for quite a while, she and my son met at UCSD and then she went to Brown while he was at Yale and now he’s a prof at Yale and she’s all the way out here with her biz. She loves to surf so I know that’s a plus, but I can imagine she misses her parents. I think she really likes SF. My hubs was born in the bay area. I really want to go to Harrods LOL

      On Wed, May 1, 2013 at 1:33 PM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


      • Yes, Harrods is a big graduation from Macy’s that’s a giver! It’s crazy down in the men’s section, you could look like Ronaldo in 20 mns LOL. Love Brown Uni. The french dept. there is like theTrianon in Versailles. Mad! Sure she misses her folk, and SF if she’s into surfing. Dang! I miss swimming in the rivers up near Grass Valley.


  9. It’s OK, these days it’s great! It’s whistling weather over here. Sunny, breezy, great. Just walking ’round the streets and having coffee reading the news makes my day. Love it!


  10. don’t let your insurance company knows about this,or else, it will increase the fire insurance premium ! just imagine, one day when captain comes back and can’t find his home!


  11. My daughter loves candles. She gets them, and I take them away. I am the candle party pooper. I am the only person in this house I trust to use them. Come to think of it, I don’t even trust myself. Very scary story.


    • It was a pretty mild way to learn a HUGE lesson. What hubs said is that IF the ceiling had actually caught on fire and gone into the attic, it would have spread too fast for him to put out without called the fire dept. and then he told me what a mess they would have made, bringing their boots in the house, not to even mention all the water. LOL I think that made more of a impact on me than the actual fire!

      On Fri, May 3, 2013 at 7:47 AM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


  12. Geez, I’m glad you are/were okay. Scary!
    My cat once walked through a candle flame. I had to grab her and roll her on the floor — her tail was on fire and she didn’t even know it (she was a long-haired cat). Luckily she was okay. Now I never light candles — unless they are in two enclosed lamp-like units a friend gave me.


    • Oh, my gosh! I got such a visual from your description of your kitty and her tail on fire! Amazing you were right there. I bet she wondered what you were doing, rolling her around like that. Just remember, yes the glass enclosures are good, but make them freestanding-no wooden/glass/bamboo shelves overhead!

      On Sun, May 5, 2013 at 6:10 PM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


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