Fire!!! Phase Whatever…

Work on our Fire!!! repairs started yesterday morning. The day began dull & grey. So much for the Estate of San Martino’s splendid sole. There was a light knock at the door of L’Appartamento Azzurro at 7:52 AM. I had just trudged in from the w-a-l-k with The Dogs. Had no time even to give them their t-r-e-a-t-s. Two operai and il costruttore stood politely outside. Golden leaves from the caco tree floated down around them. Typically Italian… when you walk down the street and meet another Italian, eyes go immediately to the shoes. As an Italianized American, I did the same to identify who was who. The two operai sported massive boots, something Frankenstein might have found cool. The costruttore had on a late-breaking pair of Lotto sport shoes. Lotto is an Italian brand emblazoned with a signature double helix of rectangles in a reflective fabric. Pretty groovy. Colourful too. The rest of their outfits were basically the same… jeans, sweaters and windbreakers. After a brief preliminary discussion on how to start, the costruttore bid me an ArrivaderLa and the two operai traversed the apartment to commence with the immediate demolition of the tilting chimney piece et al. Here are a few cogent shots…


IMG_5865The Good News, sort-of, came later in the morning, when the two operai demolished the flue facing of pasteboard above the firebox and mantelpiece to extract the flue for inspection. Here’s the exciting imagery… no, this is not science fiction but a rather clear indication that theories of some blockage in the flue… hornet’s nest, incrustation of cinders, poor construction from the previous builder… was a lot of bunk.

The gist of the rest of the First Day was spent worrying about spending an additional $1,000 out-of-pocket for a chromed cannister of a cazzo-boo-boo… the costruttore used the more tactful word boiler to describe the thing and which installing it would completely discombobulate the pasteboard cappa to hide the new flue… deemed efficient & appropriate to isolate roof from flue or seek some other solution. Today, Our Geometra, costruttore and myself haggled over options. In the end, we collectively opted for a thermal casing of high-intensity ceramics to separate roof from flue. I am saved a bunch of bucks AND, according to the geometra & costruttore both doubtful of the chimney store’s assessment of the boiler’s cazzo-boo-boo value… still upon the road to render La Casetta Safe & Secure from Fire!!!  Gads.

Fire!!! Maybe how it happened…

Post-fire has had me conversing since Monday-last’s Fire!!! with various people experienced with fireplaces, chimneys, flues, roofs and fires too. The list has included Our Trustworthy Geometra, a few local builders… two will be employed in the $10,000+ repair job to start next Monday… Our Very Good Friend and heating/cooling expert… and My Saviour with radiators and water heaters… and, of course the constant wisdom of You transmitted via his many, many text messages. Il Dottore was in Sardinia on a much needed R & R expedition which, unfortunately, went up like the smoke, when he got my hysterical text message of Fire!!! last Monday AM. You rallied and, Thank God.

Like the aftermath of a tragic airplane crash, the first task of the NTSB is always to establish what were the conditions leading up to the disaster. My inquiries of the same come to the following:

The fireplace was barely used. Our Next-door Neighbours, a mother-daughter-and-kid have been camped out in La Casetta while their house is re-built. They have sporadically built fires during their stay and only to take a slight chill out of the house. All the firebox, etc. ever experienced were short, intense bursts of flaming heat.

Huge fires were built on the rare occasions a fire was laid inside the cold & barely used, glass-door enclosed firebox. I had happened to noticed a mountain of burning embers when I glanced at the fire-box while dousing the flames with buckets of water up at the roof. This was not as per My Instructions, and was probably done to avoid constantly climbing the stairs to re-stock the fire with a new log or more. The Neighbors pass their time down at the First Floor DR table next to the kitchen, a typical custom in these parts. If there were enough room, they would be in the kitchen. Again, any fire was laid ONLY to take the chill out of the upstairs before going to bed at 9 at night. I had taught the mother-daughter how to simply build a fire. The message was… start and stay small… a bit of fire-starter and two logs crisscrossed to get things going, adding a log at a time as the fire burns down.IMG_5732

The wood was green. The Mountain Man, who furnishes our wood, had changed telephone service and number without bothering to inform me or, probably, anyone else. Communication in the Lunigiana is an unknown. They see each other at the local bar or in church… maybe. I spent June & July trying to track down the fellow with the added annoyance, once I had his new telephone number given by the bar at Vignetta, that he could ONLY be found at home for meals… maybe. So, the wood he delivered in early August was freshly cut. I stacked it or dumped in places… like the cantina where the cows once chewed their cuds… to dry. Takes time, apparently. Our Very Good Friend and expert with heating issues said green wood, once hot can produce even more heat than seasoned. He knows this from personal experience with an imminent fire at his mother’s house. Seconds away from a Fire!!! The tell-tale sign is too much smoke. But who would see that at 12:30 in the morning?

The night was damp and chilly. Our Trustworthy Geometra, Our Very Good Friend and the two builders booked to do the repair job all said that damp and chilly conditions outside and an overly heated flue inside can produced a pressure differential of letting smoke out the chimney but not the heat, building inside the flue to such an extent that all that could happen was Fire!!!

So Sunday night, the daughter innocently went upstairs to the salotto after dinner and built a big fire with lots of green wood in a cold firebox on a damp and chilly night before going to bed. At Midnight we got… Fire!!!

Fire!!! Days Three & Four after…

IMG_5703Day Three of After Sunday’s Fire… the insurance adjuster came yesterday. He took a few interior shots while I kindly shined a beam up at the blackened ceiling and at the gaping hole too, took some rudimentary measurements, wrote out a “verbale” which was basically copied from the one I sent to the insurance company Monday AM, and he ended by telling me the work could begin!!!

“Gosh, that fast? But, don’t you want to see the roof?”
“No, your photos are enough. Send them to me. Are they in colour?”
“The last I saw, they were.”
“Fine. Arrivaderci!”
The End… but not really.

IMG_5703Day Four, today, Thursday, and yes, it’s the same photo from Day Three of After Sunday’s Fire… No-one wants to uncover the disaster. Or, my photos are so stunning and highly descriptive that the exercise can be dispensed with. AM appointment with our geometra. Google translates “geometra” to mean “surveyor” in Italian. I would say NO! It means “A Guardian Angle covering my back!” We went over stuff about the fire. Too lengthy to go into. The consequence of the appointment though was a PM appointment with the same geometra and the two builders… destined to do The Work… to really go over stuff about the fire. Took over an hour. The result is: the entire chimney and 24 square meters of roof will have to be entirely re-built, re-beamed, isolated, protected, secured, re-tiled, the flue cleaned & brushed and with the novelty of a NEW! NEW!! NEW!!! copper chimney-piece on top. Then, the entire ceiling and walls of the salotto will be re-appointed… detailed painting… followed by a couple of coats of paint… for the second time this year!!!… in our signature Sage Green. The attending three gentlemen’s eye-balls popped out of their sockets when I told him what just one gallon of the paint costs. Thank God, they know the store where I bought it. I often think Italians imagine Americans cart over in their over-head bags nifty stuff found ONLY in the United States of America. Ha!!!


Fire!!! Prop & Cover…


Il Poggiolo’s Fire: The Aftermath or, Phase 2… rains predicted for two days and, sure enough, they arrived early but, not too early before the local builder + crew could put braces up against the chimney piece… it risks falling inside La Casetta and/or down the roof before the insurance adjuster can come to inspect and assess the damages… and to cover all with plastic tarpaulins secured with stones from our vast archive to keep La Casetta dry. We ain’t rockin’ but we are rollin’… a bit.








Now the whole village knows something happened. Oh! And the last thumbnail shows my contribution. Gads.


A fire… I was awakened in the middle of the night last Sunday by a horribly acrid, noxious smell in my BR in L’Appartamento Azzurro, the top most portion of il Poggiolo, our house in the Lunigiana. I immediately thought of a fire in the apt.’s fireplace. Nothing. Got back in bed. The odour got worse. Sometimes the contadini burn trash late at night down in the river often throwing plastic into the flames. I thought that was what was happening. Sceptical, I looked out the window to see tons of smoke right below where I was. This is NOT happening in the river. I stepped out onto the terrace outside my BR to see the chimney of La Casetta wrapped in flames. I bolted to awaken the neighbors staying in La Casetta while their house is re-built. I ran into the daughter on the ramp. She had been awakened by the same nasty smell and called a friend on night-duty at the volunteer ambulance service to come with fire-extinguishers. Inside the LR danced more flames up where the flue passes through the roof. While the fellow tried to douse the fire with the synthetic spray on the fire-extinguishes, the daughter & I ran back up to L’Appartamento Azzurro to do a bucket-brigade to put out the flames with water. 30 minutes later all was put out.

IMG_5675 IMG_5681 IMG_5694

I have an idea as to how it happened. There is a lesson to learn, I knew it before but others did not but, I am mostly thoughtful of this…

lucky that the daughter awoke and called for help… lucky that the friend arrived with the fire-extinguishers and set to work. The nearest fire department is 30 minutes away!!!… lucky that I was roused into action too… lucky that no-one was injured or, worse by the noxious fumes… and lucky that the roof and fireplace were built out of fire-retardant materials. Had they not, in minutes all would have been for a total loss.

Monday morning, I got a local builder to come and check the damage and to tell me if he could repair all. Said the chimney was built properly and, sadly, too busy to help. Still in the phase of post-earthquake reconstruction. Our geometra arrive too. Said the chimney was built properly and made a call to a builder expert in chimneys to come make repairs. He’s booked. Called our insurance agent to have a claims adjuster come and inspect the situation so the re-construction can begin.

Now, if the rains can hold off, I will feel even luckier!