You dirty rat, you killed my dryer!

So today was interesting. One of those average, hum-drum vacation weekends at a beautiful mountain cabin (yes we know, stolidly dull) turned wholly exciting come laundry time this afternoon. Let’s just say the heat setting we chose on the dryer had an extra dose we were not expecting.

The cabin belongs to my employer and she graciously allows us to use it from time to time to get away. After the last few frazzled weeks spent in pre-production and production, we looked forward to a very even-tempered, non-life-threatening escape from “normal” life. But hey, we can’t all live our lives without the onset of fiery tragedies, can we?

What should have tipped us off were those first showers the other morning, when we buried our faces into clean towels and smelled… smoke? We brushed it off as the last guests not having properly washed the linens, but had I used a bit more of my “Sherlock Holmes” intuition, perhaps I could have inferred this one before the danger struck. In any event, here’s how it went down…

Liz had just started the first items drying in the dryer about noon today. I dropped off a few clothing items to add to the wash and went back upstairs. But when I looked out the windows and saw plumes of smoke billowing from the side of the house, I thought: “that’s a little heavy for dryer steam.” I bolted onto the deck, peered over the railing, and sure enough – it was not the pleasant aroma of dryer sheets that met my nostrils. At first I thought maybe it was the air conditioner, because I had just notched the thermostat down a degree. So I raced inside and turned it off. I raced back out. Smoke continued to billow. I rushed around to the side and clambered under the deck. Smoke was definitely flowing from the dryer vent. Panic set in and I flew downstairs, where Liz was still setting up the wash, oblivious to the danger. I opened the dryer, yanked out the clothing and saw flames–yes flames–licking up behind the small grate in the back of the dryer. Terror! “We have a fire!, we have a fire!” I yelled. And all I saw in my head was this beautiful cabin igniting in flames.

But I remembered also seeing three fire extinguishers in the garage yesterday, so heart racing, I flew to the garage, fingers fumbling for the right key. I rushed in, grabbed the first extinguisher I saw and ran back to the basement. Liz had tossed some water into the dryer by now, so it was smoldering, thick white smoke filling the space. I pulled the pin on the extinguisher, aimed and–

Nothing. It was empty. Gaahh!

I couldn’t see past the smoke clouds, so I blew them away, which only made the flames shoot up again! I blasted out the back door and raced to the garage again, hyperventilating, legs rubbery with fear. I grabbed the next fire extinguisher, pulled the pin!–Nada. I grabbed the third with a prayer, pulled the pin… and Yes! I flew back to the basement, smoke choking the air, alarms blaring everywhere. I stuck the nozzle into the drum and blasted the flames. It was out. We then rushed outside and blasted the vent under the porch.

The house phone rang, with the fire department on the other end. I had to bustle outside again to hear over the shrill beeping of the alarms, cordless phone signal crackling out of range. I told them we had the fire out, but it was best to send a truck just to be sure. Things had mostly calmed by now and the next several moments were comprised of missed calls, dropped calls, the owner calling the neighbor after getting the alerts on her phone (while in Texas!), the neighbor and I hauling the dryer to the porch, and finally the arrival of the Fire Department – three trucks and the captain, no less! They checked for heat in the walls and began airing out the basement. Aside from the horrible smell, reports all looked good. We had averted a major crisis. That only left the dryer. We were still unsure if it was something we had caused.

The fire department unscrewed the back, pulled off the venting and what you see in Exhibit A spilled out onto the cement. A massive clump of charred dog food. The Captain said it was likely a rat, from somewhere in the house: “an inside job,” if you will. The little scoundrel had been stowing away for a big winter. For the record, Natural Choice brand dog food burns fast and burns smelly!

There’s no telling how long this situation existed. I’m almost certain the last folks to use the dryer did have a small fire in there (the smelly towels) and it simply subsided when the load was done, thankfully contained in metal housing. Still, those flames could have easily ignited something else. If I’m not mistaken, the dog food was practically sitting on the heat coils.

After some further investigation, we found the supply in question across the hall in the basement pantry. A rather ambitious little varmint for sure, making his way up over (or under) the house from one side to the other, crawling into the dryer and hiding his secret stash. But that’s what you get living out in the woods, as we can attest to back home. Nature has a way of foiling your best attempts at peaceful living.

Ask us about the possum carcass underneath our porch two weeks ago, cooking up in the 95 degree summer weather. mmm.

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