The fire and my family’s giving tree

On Saturday, there was a huge fire at my childhood home. My dad was in the garage and had climbed up into the rafters to retrieve their Christmas decorations.

Something you should know about my parents: they’ve lived in that house for 43 years. My mom used to be a successful gift shop/restaurant owner and threw weddings as a side business so our house is literally chocked to the hilt with many of her treasures.

As Dad climbed up in the rafters, he used a halogen light. He made several trips into the house and forgot about the light. It didn’t take long for the decorations to ignite. Our neighbor first saw the fire, called 911 and raced over to my parent’s.

The garage was completely charred in a matter of minutes.

Three fire trucks, police and EMTs were on the scene. My niece lives on the other side of town and could see the plume of smoke from several miles away, with flames two stories high (that likely flared when the gas blew).

As many of you know, my mom is in poor health and the EMTs ushered my parents off to a neighbor’s. Nothing was salvageable: their cars, skis, bikes, skates, lawn mower, generator, extensive collection of tools and many, many irreplaceable decorations that have been in our family for years.

Though devastated and understandably rattled, my parents were unharmed and the house was untouched. They will likely spend the next several months recovering from this disaster. But there was also a miracle and it can be attributed to a tree.

In the backyard, there was a large, dead 30-feet tall pine tree adjacent to the garage. Two weeks ago, hurricane-strength 149 km/h winds pummeled Calgary, knocking the tree down. Last week, my brother Pat and my dad cut up the tree to use as firewood.

If that tree had not been removed, its dead pine needles would have instantly ignited and the rest of my parent’s yard, and then their house would have gone up in flames. It is very likely my dad would not have been able to get my mom out in time.

This time of year, I can’t help but think of the meaning behind the Christmas tree. It is a symbol of hope, of life and of light beyond what our mortal vision can grasp.

And somehow in these charred remains of what could have been a tragedy, the symbol of the evergreen’s everlasting life has never resonated more.

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