The day I thought our house burned down

Yesterday I thought our house was burning to the ground.

Here’s what happened:

It was a beautiful, warm sunny day. Our first warm day so far this spring. I spent the afternoon gardening. Eventually, I decided I needed a few perennials for a shady area near the entrance to my studio. Pretty it up for the people coming to my classes, you know? (Who am I kidding, I wanted them for me, too!) So, I went to Walmart and spent a highly enjoyable hour or so looking at all the baby plants and various bulbs and bags of dirt and compost. I filled my hatchback with good stuff and went on my merry way.

While driving home (and while I was still in town – we live outside the city limits), I saw a huge, wide column of very black smoke out on the horizon right – it appeared to my estimation – where our house should be. But I tried to tell myself no, our house isn’t on fire. That smoke is probably way farther away than it looks, and someone is just burning a field. But the smoke was SO BLACK. Not what burning a field usually looks like. My next thoughts went like this, as I tried again to reassure myself: “You didn’t leave the kiln on or the dryer on or the oven on or the stove on… you haven’t used any of those things all day.”

But the closer I got to our house, the more and more it looked like the fire was coming from our property. And then when I turned off the highway onto the gravel, “smoke” was pouring down the road. (I later figured out that it wasn’t smoke, it was road dust from the incredible amount of emergency vehicles and responders.) And I could see multiple flashing red and blue lights at the top of the hill right where our house is. You can’t see our house from the bottom of the hill, but you can see emergency flashers, apparently!

Naturally, I started freaking out that our house actually was on fire and the only thing I could think was, “Thank God, I left Poppy outside on her chain. Maybe somebody rescued her for us!” Poppy is our puppy. Yesterday was the first day since we got her that I left her outside in the yard while I went somewhere else. When I finally crested the hill and I pulled into our yard, I could see that the fire was at our neighbor’s barn. It was fully engulfed. There were vehicles with flashing lights everywhere. Cops and deputies and firetrucks and ambulances were all over our yard. My husband was here and I ran to him right away and started sobbing because I had really really really thought our house was burning down. It was so scary.

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One of our other neighbors is the one who called it in. He was out doing tractor work in his yard. He saw all the smoke, and he knew that my husband was at work and I would never be burning something in our yard to make that much smoke, and neither would anyone else in the neighborhood. So he and his friend drove up to see what was happening. They could see the fire from the road; they called it into 911 before they even got out of the vehicle. We are blessed with good neighbors!

However, neither of them knew the address of the property with the fire, so they called it in as my husband’s and my address. My husband was at work and he heard over the radio, “Barn fire, building is fully engulfed,” at our address, so he got worried and sped to our place. On the way there he was trying to decide if he should attempt to go in and drive out the truck we keep in there, but then he saw all the smoke from the road and figured it was already a total loss.

Needless to say, we’re both super glad that it was not our house or barn (though honestly, I would have been relieved to pull up and see our barn on fire vs. our house, if I had to choose!). The one that burned down was quite old, and it was filled with scrap metal and piles of wood, so the loss wasn’t enormous. I’m glad everyone is okay and the damage was contained. It did make for a scary evening, though!

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This photo by Ashley Renee Pitt.

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After the firefighters left.

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Wreckage today.

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Into the Fire

Ready to fire!

Well, peeps…  Here’s my first major project of the semester, in the kiln and ready to fire.  These particular pieces are for the show we’re having in NYC at the Thomas Hunter Projects in a couple of weeks.  If you’d like to come to the (closing) reception, it’ll be from 6-7:30pm on Friday the 24th of February.  It would be nice to see you there!  The show itself opens on the 13th.  I believe it’s open to the public free, on weekdays.

This load will be fired to Orton cone 11.  What does that mean, you ask?   Cones are little tall skinny pyramids that melt at different points in the firing.  Notice them in the upper right and lower left of the photo above.  You can think of them as temperature gauges, even though that’s technically not correct – they measure the heat work done inside the kiln, not the temperature.  For example, cone 11 will melt somewhere between 2359 and 2394*F, depending on how fast the kiln is fired.  If the kiln is fired really slowly, the cone will melt at a lower temp than if it’s fired quickly, because there’s more heat work done in the slower firing.  [Please see comments below for more explanation of heat work.]

So, to cut to the chase: you place cones in specific areas of the kiln, typically where you can see them throughout the firing.  This kiln has two peepholes (or spies) in the front door.  When the kiln is going, I can take out a peep (little refractory -non-melting- plug) and look in the hole to see my cones.  As they melt or “fall” I can tell what’s happening inside the kiln.  I can see if it’s firing evenly, from top to bottom, and adjust it accordingly.  I can also tell when to start the reduction process (starving the kiln of oxygen to produce certain color response from the clay) and when to lighten the reduction.  [To read more about reduction, see the comment section of this post.]  The cones also tell me when my firing is finished.  When cone 11 falls in this kiln (it’ll look like it’s bending in half and touching its toes), I know to shut the kiln off.

These pieces are paper-thin porcelain, so they should be super duper translucent after they’re fired (and changed from ‘clay’ into ‘ceramic’).  I’m a little worried about the kiln itself though, because the last person who fired it had some problems with it randomly shutting off when it got to the higher temperatures.  So, I might end up babysitting it on a nearby chair with a book for several hours tomorrow.  Good times!  Hopefully it won’t come to that, though.  Wish me luck!

Orchid update. Because I know you were dying to know! 9 blossoms and 2 itty bitty buds 🙂 Also, please enjoy the pictures of my family and friends in the background.