So my life was upended December 26th by a house fire. I’ve sent out two group emails to family about it and have decided to do the followups here. Below are the first two emails I sent. This weekend I will do an update. It’s been crazy and disorienting. But what better way to end 2020?


Hey everyone… I’m emailing because I keep getting texts from people freaking out… it is wild in today’s Information age how fast info spreads.
So my house caught on fire today. All is well, everyone is safe. That’s what is important and good! I was not home, which was probably a blessing… I like to think I’m Superman and probably would have tried to put the fire out and burned alive (or I’d have been napping upstairs and breathing in smoke.) 

I have the greatest neighbors in the world. They saw the fire, called the fire department and handled everything while I was gone. The Glendale Fire Department is amazing. They arrived fast and put it out. The house itself seems solid structurally…  we have a lot of smoke damage, water damage, windows broken and dry wall holes. And stuff gone. The Battalion Chief and his investigator are such great fellows and between those two men and my neighbors, I am feeling good. It’s just stuff. (And of course all the firemen who came and did such an amazing job.)

They think it broke out around the TV but not sure… won’t know for a day or so. The bookshelf and ladder we all love is totally destroyed (hey, I’d read them all anyway) but the Christmas Tree is fine. I’m not taking her down now until March. 

Lots of smoke damage, particularly upstairs, along with everything else mentioned… and a big hole in the roof they cut to let the smoke out of the attic. Some water damage, too.

If you want exciting footage, click this link. A neighbor across the hill filmed it. I’m the green house… you know, the one on fire. 


If nothing else, there were lots of hot firemen around!


It’s just stuff. And I am okay. I’m sending this because I keep getting texts from panicked friends who are seeing my address on Next Door, Citizens and other apps saying the house is on fire. Even getting these from other cities!

So all is well. I’m not going to be answering the phone for a couple of days, I have a lot to do and both my insurance guy (also THE BEST and already all over this) and the battalion chief spent a lot of time telling me I’m about to get assaulted by calls from lawyers and insurance hucksters. So please just email. And give me a few days to catch up. It makes me feel so good that I have so many people caring for me. 

It’s a little crazy dealing with everything right now. But they think I could be back sleeping in the house by end of the week if electrical checks out. And my insurance is already all over finding a house in the neighborhood to rent, if need be.

God is good and, hey… Yay 2020! It strikes again!  : ) 

Well, in the light of day, the fire and smoke damage to the inside of the house is pretty ghastly. The fire chief who had a better outlook on my getting back in the house quickly was looking at the house in the dark. And he was also looking at it, as he said later, from his “Fire Chief POV” which is that the house was saved and the bones strong and that by saving my house they saved our neighborhood: all our houses are wonderful… but they are very old and in that sense are powder kegs. I’m really lucky the brutal fire that started in the living room at the bookcase didn’t go up in a huge blaze throughout the house before Glendale Fire arrived, which means all the neighbors were saved as well. Gotta find the silver linings, as Pat Solitano would say.  

The chief also was not able to see the smoke damage because the sun set before they were able to fully look inside the house without tons of smoke and water. 
The structure of the house seems strong and fine. The inside, however, is a 100% loss. Strip to the studs, all appliances, fixtures, clothes, books… everything needs to be tossed. I have art we are going to try hard to save, and a couple of photo albums. I also am sure my cast iron skillets will survive, god bless Lodge. If nothing else, I guess I end up with a brand new house. The ultimate Marie Kondo. A couple of my girlfriends will be glad to know I have to get all new clothes… 
The people in my neighborhood are amazing. My neighbors are doing such wonderful and good things for me. And my friends around me in LA are incredible as well. I am not one to ever ask for help, ever and suddenly I have to accept help and it’s been really powerful to see how awesome you all are. 
I was planning on adding a bathroom in March and all was set up with my good friend Don (architect) and a contractor, Ross. Then this happened and they both stepped into action Sunday morning and I feel so comfortable going forward. The fire department also, you can’t imagine how great those guys were and still are as they are staying in touch and giving me advice. 
Look, it’s tough. I bought this house in 1999, it was a disaster and spent 7 years fixing it up. I love the house and have lived according to the belief it is everyone’s house and it has been. So when I walked through the house the first time in the light of day, I went out back and had a real good cry. But I also think that years of living in the hurricane zone on the Gulf Coast and watching this happen to so many people in my hometown of Port Arthur preps you strong for a disaster. Shit happens, as we say in Texas and it came to me. All good. 
One of my immediate goals is a place to live for 6-10 months. There is a house for rent 2 min from my house (I can see it from my house) that we are trying to get. That would be a lifesaver… I can work from home there and be able to be at my house for the city or contractor etc in less than minutes. I can see my house from this rental. Allstate (who also have been as good as you could ever hope they would be, I’m ready to do a commercial for them) is working on getting it. 
I already have an office of sorts set up with a generator in my detached garage which was not touched.  
If you want to take a look, here is a video of me walking through. 
And a few videos from the street as it all was going down. More hot firemen!
As I said in the video, I so appreciate all the emails and texts. I am blessed by you all and it’s supremely comforting to know I have so many people I can call on right now. Thanks and much love to you all!

17 thoughts on “BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE Parts 1 & 2

  1. Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry, but I love your attitude. I’m thankful you didn’t have any pets to worry about (please tell me you didn’t have any pets to worry about). In a way, I’m envious of your chance to “create anew”, but that is just a gut reaction. I know the path forward will be full of hassles and trials. Good luck to you! Thanks for the smiles about the firefighters and the cast iron. Peace

    Sarah in MN

    1. Sarah, thank you! I did not have pets, another blessing indeed. (I had to put my sweetheart of a dog down in July… she was 15 and had a great life so it was hard to be too sad, that’s a long life for a dog.) Much appreciated and thanks for reading!

  2. Oh Tom….watching the video of you walking through your home after the fire was gut wrenching for me. I can only imagine how hard it was for you. Out of the ashes will rise an even more beautiful Phoenix with the special details that make a house a home put back into place. Good Luck with the rebuild! I hope it isn’t to wild of a roller coaster ride for you. Blessings–Shawn
    p.s. Glad to see someone else has even more books than my family. Every room needs a few books or a bookshelf or two!

  3. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Thinking of you and praying for all you need in strength and resources for a full and quick restoration.

  4. So sorry Tom, I woke up Oct 22nd and stepped in 2 inches of water. The water line to my refrigerator broke. I’m replacing all appliances and all the floors throughout my condo. I’ve tried to look at this as an opportunity instead of something that happened to me but here we are on Jan 13th and I’m no further along than on Oct 22 with appliances or floor. That’s not entirely true but everything has been a battle. Feeling thankful that it’s just water damage to my floors no mold in my walls and that I was home to catch it quickly. My heart goes out to you. It might only be things but it was things you cared about and you put love into your home. You have a difficult road ahead of you made even more difficult by CoVid just know your friends understand even when they momentarily forget. Try to have with the renovations. Refrigerators are back ordered by six months so just keep that in mind with everything else.

    1. Teresa, I am so sorry, too! And that it is taking you so long. Great advice, also, thank you! I thought I would have time for design decisions but I have to start them now, clearly. I so appreciate your thoughts and support!

  5. Though I don’t know you except through FB, I sincerely feel your sadness. Watching the ‘walk through’ was awful but I know it is devastating for you. There’s not much I can do but keep you in my thoughts as you cope with this ordeal and wish you well. I have enjoyed “On Food and Film” and your FB posts. I hope they will continue. And, as always, I remain a loyal fan of “The Presence”.

  6. Hey Chef, so sorry on the fire. Nice to get an update. What a year and now we are off to another rousing beginning with the craziness here in my little town. Hope you rise up from these ashes stronger than ever. Cheers matey, Mark

  7. Tom,
    Robert and I were so sorry to read the news of your house fire. The emotion in your voice during the walk through video made my heart just ache, but you have such a positive attitude that always finds a way to shine through! Love and hugs to you as you navigate the rebuild process. I know you will make the best of it!

Leave a Reply