Friday, April 22, 2011

The Unwelcome Tenant

Raccoons are horrible creatures.  I know this because there is one living in my chimney.  He (I say "he" because I'm praying it's not a "she" who is ready to have babies in my chimney.  Yuck.) as I was saying, he has been living in there since February.  My husband and I were coming home from a date night (which we get to do about once a year, but that's an entirely different post) and saw the horrible beast perched on top of our roof against the moonlight.  We grabbed a flashlight to determine what it was and, sure enough, the masked bandit peered back at us.  Then he got spooked and ran towards our chimney. 

"No!  No!  Noooooo!!!"  I yelled as he squeezed his fluffy butt into the tiny hole leading to our fireplace.  We could hear him banging around inside for several months.  We would hear him leave just after dusk and return at around 5:00am each day.  Sometimes he would bang in the middle of the afternoon and my kids would start pounding on the wall near the fireplace yelling "Get out of our chimney, you filthy beast!"  My husband wouldn't get him out because of the ice on the roof.  It was too dangerous to climb up there.  He assured me (repeatedly) that there was no way for him to get into the house.

So finally, Spring came (sort of).  At least the ice melted from the roof and we were able to get up on the roof to put a cap on the chimney.  But first we would have to have a fire in the fireplace to smoke the stinking thing out.  So we collected all of the old bills and credit card offer that I've been meaning to shred and had ourselves a good smokey fire.  Unfortunately, the flu was stuck closed and the living room filled with smoke.  But don't panic!  We got a hammer and smacked that darn thing opened.  The smoke began to rise up the chimney, but there was no critter going out.  Apparently, he had met some friends for lunch that day, so the fire was for nothing.

No matter.  My husband happily climbed up the roof to install the chimney cap.  Once he was up there he realized he needed a different screw driver.  He wanted me to throw it up to him, but I refused because that just didn't seem safe.  So I decided to climb up the extension ladder leaning against the side of the house.  This is when I discovered two things; 1) I do not like heights and 2) I think aluminum is a stupid material to make a ladder out of.  It does not give any feeling of stability or safety.  I almost called my dad to come and get me down, just like when I was a kid and climbed that 30-foot pine tree and couldn't get down.

The cap made it on the chimney without any further problems and we cleaned up the mess from the fire by shoving the cold ashes down the little chute at the back of the fireplace.  Everything seemed fine until about half an hour later when we noticed the basement was full of smoke.  There was smoke streaming out from behind the basement wall right under the fireplace.  We opened the ash door in the basement and found nothing.  Not even the ashes we had put down the chute earlier.  Weird.

As the smoke got thicker, we had no choice but to call the fire department.  Apparently, there was nothing else going on because we ended up with five engines from two different fire houses, plus three volunteers in their own cars, and about 30 gigantic firefighters in full gear stomping through my kitchen and into the basement.  I thought having that many people in my basement might violate fire regulations, but I figured I'd leave that detail up to the experts.  After a while, the fire fighters came out of our basement with a smoldering bucket of small planks.  Apparently, the previous owner of our house had shoved three or four small boards and a foam ceiling tile up the ash trap.  There was a single ember that was still warm enough to start the tile smoldering.  Who stores flammables in a place you put ashes?

Once the fire fighters and their engines were gone, we thought everything was fine.  Then came the windstorm.  The next day we heard some banging on the roof and the chimney cap lifted up and blew off.  Later that night we heard the all-to-familiar sound of the raccoon climbing down the chimney.  The stinking thing is back.  And the wind and rain haven't let up enough to get back up there to put the cap back on the chimney.  We might just have this unwelcome tenant until summer.

Which is why I was so annoyed to see caged raccoons on display at the zoo today.

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