My three year old started a fire in our kitchen while we were sleeping. Do I have your attention? She got ours.
We awoke one night to the sound of the smoke alarm. The piercing noise jolted us out of bed. “Get the kids,” my husband shouted. He raced down to see what had tripped the smoke detectors. I found our five year old still sleeping soundly, undisturbed by the shrieking smoke alarms throughout the house. But my three year old was not in her bed. Not in her bedroom. Not in the spare room. Panic set in.
I tore down the stairs to discover smoke throughout the first floor, and a flame coming from the stove top. My preschooler was standing in the living room, petrified and covering her ears. I scooped her up and brought her up to my second floor bedroom, away from the smoke, having noted that the fire wasn’t anything that would trap us up there. I told my older daughter to stay in her room, to spare her the traumatic sight of the blaze and smoke in the kitchen. Was that the right thing to do? Still not sure. Then, still panic-struck and terrified, I asked my younger daughter what in the world had happened.
I could not believe what I had seen down there. My three year old had successfully started the burner on our gas stove top and placed a loaf of apple bread on the flame, catching it on fire. Come to find out, there was another burner which she failed to ignite, but she had successfully started the gas…the GAS, that was still running. When the smoke cleared we also discovered that she had gotten into the utensil drawer, found a paring knife and took that out of the case to try and free the bread from the foil it was wrapped in. A knife. Running gas. Open flame. Any one of these things would have been alarming, but to discover that she was capable of all of these things was unbelievable.
“What were you doing down there?”
“I was hungry,” she replied.
Through one terrifying incident, I discovered she had a growth spurt in both fine motor skills and independence. She had never hesitated before to come into our room at night if she was scared or thirsty. But that night she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I wanted toast,” she said when we asked her what she was doing with the bread on the stove.
She hadn’t been sleepwalking. She remembered everything and it scared me to my core. She could have burned the house down. She could have killed the whole family, if not for working smoke detectors that are linked up throughout the house.
The very next morning we set about course correcting on several fronts. This scare made us realize that we did not have a plan in place for an emergency like this in our home. We have two fire extinguishers, but after this, we moved them to places where we could access them easier should something like this happen again. We asked firefighter friends of ours to have discussions with the kids about fire safety. I ordered a chain ladder to store beneath our bed to escape from the second floor should we find ourselves trapped. We reminded our kids what that sound means when the smoke detector goes off, after our oldest remained sleepy and unphased in her bed amid the chaos. We discussed where everyone should run to in the event of another such emergency in the house.
I am to blame for some of this, for including her in so much of what I do in the kitchen. It’s how we bond. I must not have been clear enough though about what is safe for her to do and what is best left for grown ups. Lesson learned. We continue to find ways to reinforce corrections we’ve since made.
I believe my daughter meant no harm and I believe she was sufficiently scared when she saw what she had done. But after several sleepless nights I’m now smarter and more sure that this won’t be the last time my children (too smart for their own good, at times) nearly scare me to death. I’ll keep working on ways to put out fires.