Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Near Total Loss

Early in the morning, the day after Easter, my house burned down.  I woke up around 0430 and for no explicable reason, got up and started wandering around the house.  I was halfway through the house when I saw the front porch completely engulfed in flame.   I started yelling that the house was on fire, and my girlfriend and I gathered up her kids and escaped out the back of the house, with me calling 911 on the way out the door.  It was probably less than 5 minutes between me waking up and the fire getting through the wall and finally filling the house with smoke.  It's also worthwhile to point out that the smoke detectors didn't start going off until then, and we'd have never been able to save the kids if we hadn't woken until they went off.  The fire department was there 5-10 minutes later, but my house was already a lost cause by then. 

As things are settling down a little, I wanted to put together a list of some lessons learned from this; some are specific to owning firearms and some more generic ones, and Shelley has been kind enough to give me someplace to share this.

Here are a couple photos of the house and a couple of the fire. 

Yes, that's a safe in the front corner.  It's a Liberty, and the stuff inside held up....mostly.  The fire was hot enough to melt aluminum, based on my motorcycle missing its cylinder heads and my compound miter saw being mostly melted.  My safe, as well as my range bags with a couple of firearms we'd just been using the night before, was right in the middle of the source of the fire, which started underneath the house.

1.  The fire rating of your safe doesn't mean quite as much when there's a plastic electrical pass-through in the back to power a dehumidifier.  The heat didn't destroy the contents.  But the pass-through melting let in a fair bit of water and smoke.  The guns that were in their plastic containers had enough extra protection to be just fine.  A little smelly, but fine.  The rest all needed to be cleaned and recoated.  Because it took a week for me to get into the safe, the blue firearms (thankfully cheaper Mosins and an SKS) were a little rusted.

2.  Don't waste time contacting your local safe vendor rep.  My local Liberty dealer was on vacation that week.  When he wasn't there, I was too caught up in dealing with basics like food, shelter, and clothes to think beyond that.  If I'd called Liberty that day instead of him, I could have gotten the guns that day, instead of giving the moisture a week to do its work.  I'd also like to mention that all of the firefighters wanted to know the brand of the safe, because they'd seen a lesser fire completely melt another brand of safe before.

3.  Lock up your ammo.  Not necessarily in a safe, but at least keep it in a metal ammo can.  The heat of the fire was enough to send rifle bullets 60-70 feet when they cooked off, denting cars down the street.  The pistol bullets didn't appear to travel, but there were ruptured .45acp cases in the yards across the street.

4.  The NRA has $2500 of firearms insurance available for all members, and it covers loss or theft.  HOWEVER, you have to activate it.  If you don't go to their site (the link can be found here at their membership page) and activate it, you don't have the coverage.

5.  The only reason my neighbors house actually caught on fire was because he had left two gas cans by the corner of his house.  The neighbor on the other side only had melted siding.  If you're going to store something flammable outside of your house, don't leave it close enough that it could light up your home if it ignites.

Related to the fire more generally, what areas burned and what areas didn't was very surprising.  My home had a large vaulted ceiling.  The front and back of the first floor were split by a loft upstairs, and the 2nd and 3rd bedrooms were off of that loft.  So once the fire got inside, it had plenty of room to churn around.  The contents of our half-bath, in the middle of the first floor were untouched, presumably in part because the door was shut.  The next day, the bottles of soap from there were in perfect condition, on top of all the debris. 

Upstairs, the door to the room that my girlfriends son was in was open, and the contents were reduced to charcoal, in every literal sense of the word.  the bedroom right next to it, which had the door shut, had contents that were barely touched.  My extra gunpowder was in that room, and the only thing missing from them was the labels, which apparently melted off. 

Our master bedroom was downstairs, and probably would have been fine if I'd happened to shut the door.  most of the clothes in the dresser were in perfect condition.  The bedroom closet door was open, so most of the clothes in there were a total loss.  However, I had some summer shirts and shorts in a vacuum bag in the back of the closet, and those were perfect.  Other clothes that were inside of some cheap plastic bins were also saved.  Some of my firearms stuff that was under the bed in some plastic bins was also recovered.  My main point with that being that it's amazing just how much heat is deflected by something as simple as a plastic lid or a hollow-core bedroom door.  If you don't have pets, that alone is a good reason to keep every door in your home shut that you can.

As a final comment, I have to say that Progressive has been very good to me so far.  My car and motorcycle were both insured by Progressive, and the house was with Progressive Homesite.  The bike melted in the garage, and the front of the car melted on the driveway.  Progressive gave me very fair value for both of the, including all the aftermarket gear I had on the motorcycle.  Obviously, having photos and online receipts for all that gear helped on that end.  As for the home insurance, they had us in a nice hotel in a couple of days, and in a furnished apartment nearby 8 days later. 

UPDATE:  From what I understand, this product from 3M [http://www.amazon.com/3M-Fire-Barrier-Modable-Putty/dp/B002FYAMPM] should be sufficient to keep the pass-through from melting.  I should also mention that the actual plug portion of it survived; it's the seal around it that failed and let in the steam and smoke.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reloading Notes

1. Titegroup is a very versatile powder. It has worked out well for nearly every load I do from 9mm and .38 Special up to 45 ACP and 44 Magnum. The only issue I've had was when trying to load 147 grain bullets to power factor (125000) for SSP in the IDPA and Production in USPSA. Out of a Glock 34, regardless of whether I used the stock barrel or a Lone Wolf, the bullets grouped horribly, and even tumbled/keyholed every 5-10 shots. Oddly enough, that same load would drive tacks with every other 9mm I've tried it in (Sigs, Kimber 9mm 1911, and HK P30).

2. For 147 grain 9mm loads, everything else I've tried has worked well. I've settled on WSF as the best so far. But I'm giving Solo 1000 a try before buying my powder in bulk. Too many seem to love the Solo 1000 to not at least give it a shot.

3. With 9mm, I've started running into some stuff with an IVI headstamp. This stuff is berdan primed, which is not the nicest thing to do to your depriming pin. With .45 ACP, A-MERC brass is utter crap. The case wall is twice as thick as any other brand, so I would have to crimp the ever living hell out of it to get it to chamber, which is obviously a very bad idea. So anything with an A-MERC headstamp goes right into the metal recycling box.

My current loads for meeting power factor.

4.3 grains titegroup

3.9 grains of WSF (3.3 grains of Titegroup would work if I wasn't using a G34)

.45 ACP
5.3 grains titegroup

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Match Schedule for 2012

After reading this at Caleb's site, I figured I'd lay out my definite and tentative matches here.

NC Ironman IDPA Championship 2/11 Prospect Hill, NC

2012 FL State IDPA Championship 3/10-3/11 Clearwater, FL
The Carolina Cup 6/14-6/16 Oxford, NC
IDPA National Championship 9/19-9/22 Oxford, NC

2012 INFINITY Firearms NC Sectional 10/5-10/7 Creedmore, NC

FNH VA-MD Section Championship 5/18-5/20 Fredericksburg, VA
2012 EGW Area 8 Championship 8/9-8/12 Fredericksburg, VA

Conveniently, the only matches that conflict with my work schedule at the shipyard are all USPSA matches, which works out well since my primary focus right now is getting Master in as many divisions in the IDPA as I can.

I will say that, after looking at Caleb's schedule, I'll have to look a little more into what I need to do to qualify for the Bianchi Cup and decide if I want to try out the Pro-Am in 2013 down in Frostproof.

Update: As I look at this, I'm realizing that trying to do all of these matches and a cross-country motorcycle trip in the same year isn't very realistic. I guess I can ride to Cali another year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Marriott just moved way down my list of places I'll stay.


Doing my part to help with the Google-fu.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chesapeake apparently hates concealed carry

As much as some people seem to hate the idea of open carry, the sheriff here in Chesapeake must be a big fan of it. There's certainly nothing else I can think of to explain why he works so hard to discourage people from applying for their Concealed Handgun Permits here.

I got my first permit while living in Virginia Beach in 2004. The process literally took less than 10 minutes, and that included finding a place to park. I walked in, to a building that allows firearms I might add, handed the woman my paperwork, signed it, paid my fee, and walked out. They even had a nice sign pointing me in the right direction when I walked in the door.

I let that permit expire, since I rarely carried concealed by 2009. Since the law required me to open carry in places that served alcohol, it was just easier to OC all of the time rather than keep switching back and forth. Now that they allow you to CC in restaurants, I decided to apply for a permit again. Here's a little summary of my experience.

I show up at the City Hall complex. I walk to the information counter to find out where to take my paperwork, since I couldn't find that information on their web page. They point me to the courthouse building. Once I get there, I find that the office to apply for my permit is on the wrong side of the security checkpoint, so back to the car to drop off my cell phone. Back to the courthouse, where there are no signs even hinting where I need to go. The guard tells me "3rd floor", and nothing else. So up to the third floor to wander from office to office asking where to go. The third one finally tells me which is the right one, as opposed to "I don't know".

After dealing with my paperwork, the woman informs me that she needs my email, because Chesapeake, unlike every other city in VA, will not mail me my permit. They will email me, and I have to leave work early to come in to pick it up. Then I learn that I have to walk to the other side of the complex and wait some more to get my fingerprints taken. Strangely enough, all of the other cities around here can run a background check just fine without fingerprints. Granted, the other cities also find the VA State Police check to be adequate, so the check is done in about two weeks. Chesapeake, after getting that check back, finds it necessary to run their own check, which drives the wait right up to the 45 day mark required by law. Sometimes they run longer, so you have to decide whether to go in to have your application signed, taking more time from work, or just suck up the extra wait.

If mine goes over 45 days, I may make a suggestion to the VCDL to lobby for a requirement that the city has to refund your $50 fee if they go over 45 days.

Friday, October 1, 2010



LEVITTOWN, N.Y. – Torrential downpours from a faded tropical storm inundated the
Northeast on Friday, forcing evacuations, toppling trees, cutting power to
thousands and washing out roads during a snarled morning commute. Water pooled
so deeply in a Philadelphia suburb that a car literally floated on top of
another car.

So a Tropical Storm sweeps up the coast, starting around Georgia. But the amount of rain isn't news until it hits the NYC area. I guess rain only counts when it impacts the "important" cities.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Temporary" Taxes

A great example here of why you should always throw fits whenever the legislature wants to pass a "temporary" tax.

The Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax
As a result of the damage from the 1936 flood, the Pennsylvania General Assembly imposed an emergency tax on all alcohol sold in the Commonwealth. The "temporary" 10% tax was initially intended to help pay for clean up, recovery, and assistance to flood victims. The tax was never repealed and in 1963 the tax was raised to 15% and again in 1968 to 18% (not including the statewide 6% sales tax). The nearly $200 million collected annually no longer goes to flood victims, however, instead going into the general fund for discretionary use by lawmakers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Let me preface this by pointing out that I spent four years in the Navy, and started boot camp about a month after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Both of my paternal uncles also served in the Navy. My dad's brother was a Russian linguist during Vietnam and his brother-in-law was a nuke on subs for 11 years.

I live in Hampton Roads, home of the largest navy base in the world. This area is also filled with people in every other branch of the military as well. I work at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, fixing one ship after another, to make sure that those ships will not fail their crew when they're deployed. Most of those sailors are good, hardworking men and women. Some of them, like in any group of people, are assholes. But what I'm about to say isn't directed at either of those groups. There's a very special group of military personnel that has motivated this rant. For that select group, I have this to say:

Simply being in the military does not make you a fucking hero.

Let me clarify this a bit. First, there's nothing even remotely heroic about any part of most of the jobs being done by people in our military. Admirable, yes. Heroic, no. Second, and more importantly, if you ever feel any compulsion to call yourself a hero, you aren't. I've met REAL heroes. Not one of them thought that what they did was heroic. Most of them just get embarrassed talking about what they did if people start calling it heroic.

Here's an example of a real hero.


Brian Thacker lived next door to my parents, and flew hanggliders with them. None of us ever knew that he'd been awarded the Medal of Honor until I spotted a picture related to that award in an open box when we helped him move. I had to ask my parents what it was, because I was only 12 or so at the time. Later on, in high school, I was given an assignment to interview someone to talk about their experiences in the 60s. I interviewed Brian, and he described his experiences in Vietnam in detail, except that he never mentioned receiving the CMoH.

Now, because it just can't be posted in enough places as far as I'm concerned, here's the text posted at the link above.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 1st Lt. Thacker, Field Artillery, Battery A, distinguished himself while serving as the team leader of an Integrated Observation System collocated with elements of 2 Army of the Republic of Vietnam units at Fire Base 6. A numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force launched a well-planned, dawn attack on the small, isolated, hilltop fire base. Employing rockets, grenades, flame-throwers, and automatic weapons, the enemy forces penetrated the perimeter defenses and engaged the defenders in hand-to-hand combat. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, 1st Lt. Thacker rallied and encouraged the U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers in heroic efforts to repulse the enemy. He occupied a dangerously exposed observation position for a period of 4 hours while directing friendly air strikes and...against the assaulting enemy forces. His personal bravery and inspired leadership enabled the outnumbered friendly forces to inflict a maximum of casualties on the attacking enemy forces and prevented the base from being overrun. By late afternoon, the situation had become untenable. 1st Lt. Thacker organized and directed the withdrawal of the remaining friendly forces. With complete disregard for his safety, he remained inside the perimeter alone to provide covering fire with his M-16 rifle until all other friendly forces had escaped from the besieged fire base. Then, in an act of supreme courage, he called for friendly artillery fire on his own position to allow his comrades more time to withdraw safely from the area and, at the same time, inflict even greater casualties on the enemy forces. Although wounded and unable to escape from the area himself, he successfully eluded the enemy forces for 8 days until friendly forces regained control of the fire base. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by 1st Lt. Thacker were an inspiration to his comrades and are in the highest traditions of the military service.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

It's nice when this is the type of decision I have to struggle with. I could buy this, or both of these. On one hand, I've got a couple of stripped AR receivers that desperately need to be assembled into something useful. On the other hand, the DVD sets are 60% for a few more weeks.

I'm pretty sure the frugal Scottish side of me will win out over any part of me that really wants a 6.8SPC rifle. Granted, it would probably be a harder decision if ammo wasn't so scarce right now. Finding 6.8SPC ammo, or even brass, is bound to be far more challenging than finding baking ingredients.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why realistic novels wouldn't sell

a.k.a. Why people don't understand the way I think.

Recently, I started to re-read Raymond Feist's Riftwar Saga. As I was reading it, I came across the following passage:

"Follow that trail for two days until you come to a small valley. Cross it, and on the north face you'll see a waterfall. A trail leads up from there, and atop the plateau you'll' be near the top of the falls. Follow the river upwards, until you reach its source. From that lake you'll find a trail again moving upwards, again to the north. That is the only way to Moraelin. You'll find a canyon, which winds around the lake in a complete circle. Legend says it is the tracks made by the mourning Elf Prince, wearing the ground down around the lake. It is called the Tracks of the Hopeless.

There is only one way into Moraelin, across a bridge made by the moredhel. When you cross the bridge over the Tracks of the Hopeless, you will be in Moraelin. There you will find the Silverthorn. It is a plant with a light silver-green leaf of three lobes, with fruit like red holly berries. You will recognize it at once, for its name describes it: the thorns are silver. If nothing else, get a handful of the berries. It will lie close to the edge of the lake. Now go, and may the gods protect you.'


As I read that, I got an image in my mind of how that would go if I was the hero getting those directions.

"Follow that trail for two days until you come to a small valley. Cross it, and on the north face you'll see a waterfall. A trail leads up from there, and atop the plateau you'll be near the top of the falls. Follow the river upwards, until.."

"Wait, which side of the waterfall was it the trail?"

"The north side. Now once you reach the source of the river, you'll find a trail again moving upwards, again to the north. You'll find a canyon, which winds around the lake.."

"Uh, how do I get to the source of the river again?"

"It's after the trail at the north of the waterfall. Were you listening at all?"

"Sorry, it's just a lot of information. Any chance you could write this down?"

"Oh sure, I always carry a pen and paper when I head out to the woods for weeks. Because that survives really well in the rain."

etcetera, etcetera.

I've heard people gripe at times that engineers are just way too literal about things. But they just have no idea. There's a reason I'm much better at editing than I am at writing.