05 April 2012

He says he's not dead

"You're not fooling anyone"

Ah, the life cycle of a blog: from posting every few days, to multiple posts a day, to posting every couple of weeks. Is "Movin' Meat" on its way to permanent hiatus? I don't know any more than you do. Recently my free time has seemed to be consumed by work, the kids, karate, and when I have time to play on the computer, I seem to spend more time on Twitter. In any event, I'm not hanging it up, and I do intend to keep posting, at least as often as I have something to say and some time to thoughtfully present it.

To make up for the recent radio silence, I offer you this true anecdote from last weekend which qualified me for my twelfth Dumb Guy Award:

I used to have a perfect 40-year track record of never accidentally setting the house on fire. Unfortunately, I can no longer say that is the case. My Lou Gehrig-like streak has been broken.

So, we have dogs. (Relevant.) If we leave food on the counter for more than a minute or two, it becomes dog food. Also, the damn cat. So both Liza and I have a longstanding, almost automatic habit that as soon as we are done eating, all food is immediately covered or otherwise put away. Sometimes when we have pizza or some otherwise largish dish, Liza would put it in the oven to keep the critters away from it. I have objected to this practice on the grounds that I think it's unsanitary to leave unrefrigerated food out and also because from time to time I turn on the oven and it starts smoking and I pull out the charred ruins of yesterday's dinner. In fact I have ... discussed this with Liza a few times. (I was going to say that I have yelled at her for it, but one does not yell at Liza if one wishes to keep one's ears.) At any rate, it was a pet peeve of mine, and we have discussed it. And since those discussions, it has been a fairly uncommon thing to have leftovers in the oven any more.

The other night, we had pizza, as we usually do on Friday nights — movie night at the Shadowfax homestead. (Relevant.) Last night, Liza and Son #2 went to the Sounders game, which is soccer. Son #1 had his friend Ethan over for a playdate/sleepover, and I was of course minding the two girls as well. I was absorbed in a complex task on the computer, and Liza had thoughtfully gotten a frozen bakable platter of Mac'n'Cheese rather than abandon the children to my tender ministration, by which I mean neglect. After Liza left, I turned on the oven to preheat and went back to the computer room, immediately forgetting about the oven. A few minutes later, Son #1 shouts that something smells like smoke. I ran to the kitchen to be confronted by thick black smoke pouring out of the vent on top of the oven. I hit the fan, deactivated the oven, and opened the door to see large sheets of flame shooting out.

From the pizza boxes. Which I personally had put in the oven and forgotten.

A lot of things started happening at once. All seventeen smoke detectors in the house started going off at ear-splitting volume. The kitchen started filling with smoke VERY quickly. The little girls started freaking out at the noise and the smoke. I realized that this was not the sort of fire you can beat out with your hands or a cup of water; it was in fact growing as I watched it. I remembered where the fire extinguisher was (in the cabinet next to the oven), retrieved it, and pulled the safety pin. I aimed it at the flames and squeezed the trigger.

Now, I will pause here to note that I have never before discharged a fire extinguisher. I had only a vague idea of what happens when you do. You point it at the fire, FWOOOSH, magic smoke happens and the fire is out. Simple, right? I did not know (and was not really thinking about it deeply at the moment) that the magic smoke is in fact a very very fine white powder, ejected under high pressure into a very confined space. To say that the mess it left was catastrophic would be an understatement. "Unholy" would be a better description of the results. A huge cloud of white dust billowed back from the oven and covered my face and every single surface in the kitchen.

I peered into the oven through the haze, and saw that the boxes were no longer burning. I retrieved them, still smoking faintly, and set them on the counter by the window. I noted then that there were still (or again) decent sized flames shooting out of the oven. I am guessing that some of the pizza or box had adhered to the roof of the oven, but I don't know. FWOOSH again, another huge backblast of white particles and the fire in the oven was out. Unfortunately, the pizza boxes on the counter had managed to re-ignite themselves and were shooting flames about four feet up. Another brief blast of mystery white powder all over the counter and sink and wall and cabinets, and the pizza boxes were once again downgraded to smoldering, with a few flickers of flame. I realized the fat in the cheese of the pizza (there was quite a bit left) was going to be really hard to put out, and the extinguisher was nearly spent so I picked up the boxes and ran out back. The air from running caused the flames to flare up in my face quite dramatically. Perhaps the white powder covering my face protected me from serious burns; we shall never know. I pitched the blazing boxes onto the back lawn and went back inside to contemplate the smoky, snowy ruin of our kitchen.

The good news was that we now had a fire-free house, which is a something of a luxury when you really consider the alternative. The bad news was that the smoke was thick in the air, burning my eyes, the girls were sobbing uncontrollably, the fire alarms were shrieking, and the oven was a horrible mess I didn't even want to think about. Son #1 was a champ at this point, rounding up the girls and consoling them and keeping them out of my way. I ran through the house opening each and every window. It was 44 degrees, so soon the girls were crying *and* shivering. The smoke upstairs was so thick it was actually sobering. Way up in the playroom it was so dense I was coughing and my eyes were tearing. I couldn't turn off the fire alarms, but they shut themselves off after a few minutes. Slowly the smoke began to clear.

I surveyed the damage. Nothing serious, really. Just a huge mess, and nobody hurt. So a victory when it comes to kitchen fires. Son #1 and Ethan came down and started writing their names in the dust that covered everything. I sent them away when they started to pour out water to create paste. Teagan lectured me in her "important" voice about the big big fire that we had in the oven.

Outside, on the lawn, the pizza boxes burned prettily.

I sent Liza a text, and got the following, concerned, supportive response:


I poured myself a big glass of wine, for courage, and set to the cleanup. THREE HOURS with the shop vac, all the while enduring insightful commentary and overt taunting from my nine year-old son. He truly has the genes of a champion taunter, and I think he felt entitled since he continued to watch the girls for me. Ethan was reserved and polite; a nice kid. But he looked at me with an air of quiet disdain, which is a painful sense to get from a kid. After a while I noticed that the dogs were trying (OF COURSE BECAUSE THEY ARE DOGS) to eat the still-smoking remains of the pizza on the lawn, so I had to go out and deal with that. I surrendered and gave them all the blackened pizza that wasn't actually hot to the touch, which they ate greedily, because they are dogs. I slipped on the wet wood getting back on the deck and nearly broke my leg, catching myself just in time. Shaking a weary fist at the sky, I went, defeated, back into the house.

When Liza got home, she was actually quite understanding and did not beat me up at all, beyond noting that the place smelled (and smells) like a campfire. She was very complimentary at the cleanliness of the kitchen, which bore almost no sign of the disaster. With a childlike sense of wonder, she surveyed the rest of the house and noted how far the white dust had spread (all the way to the kids' bedrooms, the wet bar, the front room, pretty much the entire house. Son #2 was disappointed to have missed the excitement. I got quietly drunk and went to bed; the boys stayed up till 3AM giggling.

So I now hereby claim the title of DUMB GUY as is my right and my due until such time as Matt or some other guy commits an act of idiocy.

I will say in defense of my Dumb-ness that while anybody can make the careless mistake of turning on the oven without checking it, the fact that I had many times berated my loving wife for her habit of putting the boxes in there, and then proceeded to do the same damn thing myself qualifies me for the willful stupidity element of the award, with bonus points for irony. And the consequence of the mess and the humiliation in front of my son and his friend certainly meets that criteria.

Submitted for your consideration.


  1. This is the funniest blog entry I have read in months! You have a new and diehard fan in me.


  2. Just don't do it again. Once is a fluke. Twice and you start to get a reputation as that guy who often burns the house down.

  3. Oh my god. Your wife's text might have been the best part. (To an outside observer who didn't have their house nearly burn down. I'm sure you weren't quite so amused.)

    Still, strong work, and congrats on a)preventing your house from burning down and b)not ending up a patient in your own ED. (;

  4. I have been reading your blog for quite some time now. You are always thoughtful and thorough in your coverage of issues related to medical care and patients.

    It is lovely to see you also have a great sense of humility and humor about your personal life. In conjunction with all the amazing posts you give us about your profession, it makes you one of my favorite bloggers to read. Thanks for sharing, and for giving me a great belly laugh this evening. I am thankful that in the end all you ended up with is the equivalence of indoor campfire smell and a great story. So glad everyone was safe!

  5. Eep!
    this was both disturbingly funny and educational re fire extinguishers.

    Fortunately when my dad insisted that a) the delivered pizza wasn't hot enough and b) we should just put the whole box ni the oven to reheat it we weren't very far away and could see that there was [semiexpected]* smoke, so rather less mess.

    *unexpected to Dad; very expected to Boyfriend. Dad had been doing this for years.

  6. Retired fireman here...if something portable (like pizza boxes) in your house catches fire, put it out in 30 seconds or less. If you can't put it out in 30 seconds, GET OUT and CALL 911.

    If the item is portable, take it outside, well clear of anything else flammable. If it's not portable, CALL 911 and report a fire out and request a safety check.

    Lastly, consider turning on the oven light anytime you're storing something in there. Then, the light will remind you.

  7. I am impressed, both by your handling of the situation and your reporting of it. I haven't laughed that hard while sober in a long time.

  8. Thanks for sharing. So funny, which I'm sure it wasn't at the moment. I bet this is something that the kids will retell many times.

  9. My brother emptied the pot and put it back onto the hot plate which was still on ( full heat ) . The fire alarm works quite nicely ............... .

  10. Shades of Thurber's carnival...

  11. Captain in a Volunteer Fire Department

    Only thing I would have had you do different. Get the kids outside immediately. Doesn't matter if it is raining or not, if you got so much smoke, that all the alarms are going off, they need to be outside in case you don't control it.

    Having the 9 year old call 911 would have been a good step too. My department would have given you a little teasing, told you good job, and hooked up some fans to help you desmoke the house a little faster.

    I have seen people do similar things, and have the curtains catch fire from the smoldering boxes, leading to the cabinets catching fire, leading to the $30,000 kitchen remodel that the wife wanted anyway. Paid by the insurance company.

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  13. "Did you forget the pizzas?" is the funniest thing I've read in quite awhile!

  14. As the Volunteer Chief said, next time, kids go outside. You know how bad that stuff is to breathe in! I've seen kids collapse from ammounts of smoke that we could easily handle. And btw; I won the dumb guy award last year...when I set the fire department on fire. Brownies+Run+Forgetting the oven=coming back to a similar situation.

  15. As somone whose wife set a fire in the living room, you should probably file an insurance claim and get the entire house cleaned by pros and the range checked out to make sure it wasn't damaged. It's very unlikely that you will ever get rid of the campfire smell without hiring someone who knows what they are doing and has access to things like ozone rooms to deodorize things like books.

    And even after professional cleaning you'll still get reminders every once in a while. The top to bottom cleaning and repainting where it was needed ran ~$14,000 in an 800 square foot house.

    And yeah, call 911 and get the kids out. The Everett firefighters checked to make sure that the fire was confined, congratulated my wife on a good job with the extinguisher, and stuck in a couple of fans the cleared the place in about 5 minutes. The entire cleanup took about 2 weeks.

  16. Awwww. The humiliation.

    The friend gets home and re-tells the story (since he smells like smoke). His Dad says, "Sheesh, that guy's a doctor? Honey, do you know what hospital he works at?"


    R.A.C.E Shadow!


  17. Damn, this was funny! Glad you're all OK.

  18. I'm not sure which is funnier - your story, or DaddyEMT setting the fire department on fire!

  19. Here's something to get you fulminating, if you're in dire need of new-old material: Dead By Mistake, dateline 9 August 2009.

  20. I have been quietly reading your blog for a long time, but I simply had to let you know that a) your wife's text had me snort my tea up my nose, and b) I'm impressed by your calm in a stressful situation. I would have probably been running around as though my head was on fire, which it probably would have been too.

  21. Nicely written.

    These events in our lives, and those of our families, are remembered forever (and way more than the happy times).

    Wetvacs are miracles, fire extinguishers are wonders, and thanks for sharing.


  22. Note to self: do not sit in a chair with squeaky springs when reading a funny Movin' Meat post. It sounds a lot like....well, never mind.

  23. Please keep blogging. I really enjoy your blog as I am in the healthcare field and you bring up pertinent/interesting issues. Thanks.

  24. DoctorAudrey4/28/2012 1:35 PM

    Wouldn't it have been better not to turn the fan on, close the oven door again, switch the oven off, and contain the fire in the oven until it suffocates itself? Assuming that your oven is well-sealed, it should not take too long.

  25. //I used to have a perfect 40-year track record of never accidentally setting the house on fire//

    That one line, accidentally read, was enough to make me follow your blog. Thanks to Hemant Mehta for the link.

  26. It would be all too easy for me - a guy who hasn't checked fire alarms in I-don't-know-how-long, doesn't own a fire extinguisher, and even worse, doesn't own a shop vac - to call YOU a dummy. At least you got the situation taken care of, so don't beat yourself up too much.


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