Some friends of mine are in trouble.

This is probably one of the hardest blog posts I've ever tried to write. It's hard to write something like this so that it's not all drama, not all pathos, not all "holiday tragedy human interest story" (which is its own unique flavour of article, to be sure), and yet not come across like I'm trying to manipulate people by tugging at their heart strings. So, to that end, I've opted to write only the facts as I understand them, with a minimum of linguistic ornamentation.

Mylia, Chey, Mika, and Cindy are old friends of the family, and rented a house together in College Park, Maryland about a year back. A couple of days ago they had a close call indeed. They awoke in the middle of the night to discover that their house was on fire.

Mylia and Chey were in Arizona attending a funeral when the fire broke out. Mika and Cindy, who were at home at the time thankfully got out safely. The College Park VFD extinguished the fire before it could spread to any other buildings. However, the house is pretty much a writeoff. They lost almost everything between the four of them. There isn't a whole lot left of their personal possessions, and a lot of what's left still smells of smoke.

I don't ordinarily do this. Ask for money, I mean.

There are two fundraisers active on Give Forward, one for Mika and Cindy and one for Mylia and Chey. Christmas isn't too far off, and it would really help them get back on their feet if everyone sent a few dollars their way so they could start rebuilding what they've lost. Their resources are pretty scant right now because most of them were in the house at the time it burned down.

If you can, if you have a few dollars to spare, please donate to one (ideally, both) of the fundraisers. I've already done do. They're friends, and they need our help.

Thank you, Internet.

Update: 20121104 @ 1020EST5EDT
Here are some photographs of the fire and the damage done inside.

Update: 20121104 @ 1227EST5EDT
Hasufin has written up his side of what happened because he was on site while the fire was being put out. I've put his words under the cut to save space.

So, on the 12th of November, Mika called me at 4:30 am.

She knows better than to call me at 4:30 am on a weekday. If there's any time I'll be asleep, it's then.

Which meant it was important. And it was. I could tell she was crying. She told me to bring the cat carriers right now. That was all she told me.

Some things you don't question. I told her I was getting dressed and was on my way; I was putting pants on before she hung up. I took a few moments, but not long. I wasn't sure if she said she needed a cat carrier, or multiple carriers; I reasoned that she lives in a multi-cat household, and surely they have a carrier or two, but that means this is a major issue, so I'd better bring both carriers... better to have and not need, etc. I also snagged a jar of colloidal silver, which is a safe antibiotic cream for pets, figuring that maybe there were injured felines. Thus prepared, I was out the door in ten minutes.

I used the time driving to speculate on what happened. My first guess was that it might be nothing, a false alarm. I'd be mad, but it would be the best outcome. My second guess was that there had been a serious interfeline brawl, and several of the cats were in severe need of medical attention. Not ideal, but possible. My third guess was, the cats themselves weren't the issue, but rather the house was uninhabitable. Removing your pets is a logistical nightmare. But what could make the house uninhabitable? Hm. Fire? I didn't know, of course, but it seemed possible.

It's half an hour, maybe 45 minutes. from my house to Mika's house. That early in the morning, it was only a half-hour drive. Except for a little snag - about two blocks from the house, there were fire engines blocking the street. A lot of them. I didn't bother counting the fire engines. I saw at least four ambulances, and several police cars. It seemed too much, and too far from the house, to possibly be related. Isn't this kind of fleet what they send when an apartment building catches on fire? Surely this is overkill for a house fire. Still, no way I was getting through. I parked, and called Mika. I had to repeat myself twice, but she confirmed that the emergency vehicles related to her calling me; she told me to walk the rest of the way.

Remarkably, I was able to proceed without challenge all the way to the house. Mostly I saw the crews packing it in - paramedics strapping gear onto gurneys, police heading off, fire crews buttoning up their trucks. Which is, overall, a good sign. They don't leave until they're sure they're done. And unused medical supplies are the best thing to see on a gurney. When I got to the house, I found Mika and Cindy. Cindy was holding a most terrified Ashes in a blanket. Well, I had a solution for that. Ashes was by no means pleased, but we stuffed her into a carrier and covered it with a blanket. We informed a gentleman who I believe was probably the Site Commander that there were still three cats unaccounted for, and he said he would have his men look. Assessing Mika and Cindy, they were unharmed. Cindy was fine, and fully dressed. Mika was barefoot, lacking a jacket, and had no glasses. I loaned her my jacket, and took Ashes back to my SUV - e.g., away from all the light and noise. She was, of course, terribly upset. Safer in the car than anywhere else, though. That handled, I returned to the house.

While we were waiting, a fireman emerged from the house with Egypt, whom he had found in the basement; she too was put in a carrier and taken to the SUV. Eventually, the firemen said that we could enter. They would show us the house and how to be safe, and so on. After some initial confusion, Cindy and I went in, with Mika waiting outside. The house was pretty well wrecked. I won't bore you with details, but there was broken glass everywhere, and the firemen had pulled apart several walls - the fire had gotten into the walls, which is terribly dangerous. From accounts I've heard since, I believe that Mika and Cindy - Mika especially, as her room was right above the fire - were terribly lucky to escape with their lives. In Mika's room, I was able to find shoes and socks, and a jacket, but no glasses. With shoes, though, Mika was able to get in, and eventually her glasses were found.

Again, no need for too many details here. The entire house smelled like smoke, of course. The firemen had ripped the walls apart, exposing structure and void space I didn't even know existed. Very nearly every window in the house was broken. They had broken a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. Furniture ended up in unlikely places - the couch overturned, bookshelves used as battering rams to break open windows, doors ripped off hinges and thrown out of windows... there are reasons for all this, but I would not have imagined. The entire house was dark, too - they had simply removed the electric meter. I did not know those were removable.Of course it's sensible, they want neither an electrical fire nor electrocution; it's probably the first thing they do.

Eventually all the firefighters left. It was just Cindy, Mika, me, and the vultures.

Ah, the vultures. There were two of them. An insurance adjustor and a guy from Boarditup. They talked with us for quite a while; they'd been doing this for a while I'm sure. the guy from boarditup was of course very helpful, very solicitous - offering water, flashlights, even toothbrushes. And good advice about finding the wayward cats - that being, be sure to leave out food and water, since if they can't get those, they'll venture away and not return. I'm not sure how I feel about the vultures - they are profiting on others' misfortune, of course, but then again - have you ever asked what you'd do if you had a house fire? If there was a death in your home? Such things must be handled, but who ever knows how? So, there they were. Us and the vultures. Dawn came, and eventually the landlord arrived. Mika and Cindy grabbed what they could to make do, and after many attempts to locate the other two cats, the house was locked up and we departed.

Subsequent visits ultimately yielded both cats, alive and unharmed. I should also mention Cindy's rats, one of whom died from the shock, but the other apparently doing well. The living room in the house was largely destroyed, though remarkably some of the electronics I'm told worked fine once they dried off. Mylia's room got extensive smoke and water damage, but otherwise was okay; her storage room was mostly unmolested. Cindy's room, too had relatively little damage that I observed. The kitchen was the least damaged, but of course for the broken glass. Mika's room, which was above the fire, took the most damage and she lost a great deal of her belongings, but it could have been worse. Chey's room, also upstairs, looked exceptionally bad, but that was largely due to the firemen pulling the wall down. Still very bad, but not the complete destruction it originally seemed.

I'd say to balance between the extremes of how people consider house fires. This is a lot more than a little bit of smoke and water damage, especially for Mika. And while yes, it certainly could have been fatal, there was still a house, and it may even be repaired rather than replaced. At this point, everyone has a place to stay, some more permanent than others. The cats are fine, too. But people do need time and money to recover. I imagine they'll be finding that they lost important things for years to come.