So… this happened.
!!! AHHHHHH !!! Cue freakout moment…
…Now relax, it’s okay! I promise everything’s fine at the end of this story.
So let me rewind and bring us back to the beginning of this fiasco…
I was ready for big changes in my life. After leaving my job in northern Michigan, I decided to move the Tiny House back home to Wisconsin for the winter. My plan? Rope my parents into helping me finish the project, and figure out where I want to live next, while enjoying the perks of living out in the sticks rent-free!
It was brilliant! All I had to do was get from Point A to Point B. No problem!
But time was running out before the deep freeze of winter. Realizing I somehow didn’t know anyone with a big enough truck, I turned to Craigslist and posted an ad for someone with a 3/4 – 1 ton truck to help me move before the holidays.
Soon I had several offers from people who were willing to do the job.
I hired Michael who lived nearby and could move fast for a low low price. What could possibly go wrong!?
Fast forward to early on a Saturday morning, the day of the move. Things were going well! Jack had been super helpful snowblowing the driveway so we could get out, and drivers Mike and Tyler were hardworking and creative at problem-solving to make the tight turn out of the driveway.
And soon, we were on the road!
It was exciting. There were lots of firsts.
The first time the Tiny House had been towed.
The first gas station.
The first time crossing the Mackinaw Bridge! Only $8 to cross which seemed really cheap to me.
And shortly after that, a less-fun first… my first time calling 9-1-1.
We were traveling west on Michigan’s Highway 2 near Brevort, about 30 miles past the bridge. I was feeling great that we were putting miles behind us!
Suddenly, sitting in the back seat of the truck, I looked up and noticed that my driver Michael had a strange expression on his face.
“Um… everything ok?” I asked. The truck had been working pretty hard pulling my Tiny House.
“Just smelling something kind of weird,” replied Michael.
Less than a minute later a thick gray smoke began rolling from under the hood right in front of the truck’s windshield, prompting Michael to pull over.
Our relief driver Tyler, in the front passenger seat, opened his door to investigate.
Then everything changed.
“The truck’s on fire! Get out RIGHT NOW!” Tyler yelled.
Seconds later I was standing knee-deep in the snow, watching a stream of liquid flames pouring from the bottom of the truck’s engine onto the road. Michael and Tyler were throwing snow on the hood in an attempt to put out the fire. We decided we needed to call for help.
When I connected with the 9-1-1 dispatcher, I explained we had a burning vehicle on the side of the road. Thankfully this happened right in front of a house and the homeowner was able to help me give an exact address for the emergency crew.
“Everyone get away from the vehicle immediately!” the dispatcher commanded. “Stop putting snow on the engine! It’s probably going to explode! Stand back!”
Michael, Tyler and I stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the deep snow, watching helplessly. Time got distorted. I don’t even know how long we stood there watching. It seemed like it took forever. Everything was in slow motion. The flames grew. The flames grew more. It was surreal to watch.
When the fire shattered the windshield and poured into the cab of the truck, I think we all realized the truck was definitely finished. The fire took on a life of its own. We gaped wordlessly. Well, not quite wordlessly, because I remember muttering “please… please…”, trying to will the flames to stay away from my house. I recalled with horror that it was built with wood, wood, and more wood. And coated with wood on the outside.
I couldn’t believe this was happening. The flames were huge. The bed of the truck was full of tires. We listened to all the tires, and all the pressurized cans of Great Stuff I had in the cab, explode in turn and ignite adding to the giant fireball, a plume of black smoke pouring from the inferno.
The fire truck was not coming. It had been too long. WHERE WERE THEY!
The wind was blowing the fire directly at the Tiny House. I was in shock. I didn’t even feel the cold. “Please… please… ” I begged to whoever was listening. I sobbed silently in my helplessness. All I could think of was all the time, energy, money and heart I had invested in this object that was surely about to burn. I felt fleeting relief every time I heard sirens, followed by despair because it was always police cars blocking off the highway to traffic and not the fire truck.
WHERE WERE THEY?! The flames kissed my house. The smoke poured thick and black into the sky. The wind blew everything right at my home. I was sure hope was lost.
And then… Finally! Finally! Finally! A big, beautiful, gorgeous candy apple red fire truck came onto the scene. The firefighters assessed the blaze, rolled out their hose, and got to work saving everything I own. They started putting out the fire at the back of the truck closest to my house, and soon they had control of the situation. There were emergency vehicles and personnel all over the scene.
At this point I broke out of my state of shock enough to call my parents.
“Hi honey, where are you now?” chirped my mom on the other end of the line. My last text message to her had told her that things were going perfectly.
“Uh… things aren’t going so well anymore…” I began and explained what had gone down.
After a while the emergency crews had extinguished the blaze, we were done with questioning for the police report and everything was hooked up to be towed to a wrecking company facility in St. Ignace, MI. One of the police officers gave me a lift.
I can’t even describe the sense of relief I felt as we followed behind the tow truck, with my beautiful house bouncing along behind it, still fully intact.
When we got to the wrecking facility, we got to see what was left of the truck. In a nutshell, nothing. Seats, gone. Steering wheel, gone. Shifter, gone. There was nothing whatsoever remaining inside anymore.
I lost everything I had in the truck that wasn’t in my pockets. So, all my tools, a couple expensive cameras and my ID/money/cards. Even tools made of metal had been completely obliterated. My parents floated me their credit card info to get a place to stay in St. Ignace for the night, and a pizza. Then they shifted into epic rescue mode.
My parents in their unbelievable awesomeness made a ton of calls and found a friend of a friend of a friend, who would let them take his truck no questions asked. This man, Steve, was a person that they had never met. He set them up with his gorgeous truck, towing equipment and everything they could have possibly needed. Why did this complete stranger step up to help us in such a huge way, with nothing in it for him? I don’t know, but I’m so thankful that he did, and for the friends that helped make that connection. These are the kinds of things that can restore your faith in humanity.
Drivers Michael and Tyler hung out with me while they waited for a friend to come pick them up, and then they headed home. Everyone’s best guess was that the truck’s transmission line had burst, spraying fluid all over the engine and causing the fire to start.
Eight hours later, at 1:30 AM, my folks rolled into my hotel parking lot in St. Ignace. We all stayed up long enough to chug a beer, inhale a little pizza and have lots of hugs before settling down for a couple hours of sleep.
In the morning we were ready to put this ordeal behind us and get home. We got an early start.
I could not believe that there wasn’t ANY damage to the house. The only marks from the traumatic incident were flecks of soft ash that clung to the siding. These would be easily washed off later.
The eight hour trip home was thankfully uneventful. Steve’s truck drove like a dream, pulling the weight of the Tiny House without breaking a sweat.
Here are a few photos from the drive:
At about 5 pm we finally rolled into my parents’ driveway. Dad and I backed the house into position next to the garage and braved the extreme cold to get wheel ramps and blocks all situated. We returned the truck to Steve’s house and cracked open some tasty beverages to celebrate putting that nightmare behind us.
Now my Tiny House is looking lovely in its new spot.
Sometimes a close call is an opportunity that causes you to stop and reflect on your blessings. Even though I lost some things in the fire, I’m so thankful that I still have my little home and so grateful for all the people who came together to save me from a jam. This could have been so much worse if it wasn’t for you all!
From the bottom of my heart, I thank my Mom, Dad, Michael, Tyler, Jerry Niblett, Steve, Brevort Fire District firefighters and police, Cord from George’s Body Shop and the Voyageur Inn staff for your help in my journey. And all the nice people who gave thumbs-ups and winks to the Tiny House on the road!
You all rock so hard and I’ll never forget your kindness! 🙂