Yesterday morning, as I was sitting alone in the quiet house, the smoke detectors went off. It took me 4-5 seconds to get over the shock and to stand up and start walking. I'm not sure where I was going to go, but I think I started walking around the family room and sniffing for smoke. I remember looking wildly from side-to-side searching for flames or smoke. And then, just as I was getting my wits about me, I headed towards the phone and it was suddenly quiet again.
I stood still in the middle of the room, wondering if I had time to pack things up. I thought of getting the dog out and wondered where the cat was hiding before I remembered with a pang that Maggie had died a month ago. And then I started thinking of the family photos, the computers, and how would I ever have time to pack up the house. All of this took only about 10 seconds but it was a wild 10 seconds in my brain.
In what seemed to take forever but was probably only about 15 seconds after the detectors first started beeping, I started running around the house checking things - I checked the furnace and hot water heater first, then making sure things like irons, hair dryers, toasters, etc... weren't plugged in, then checking bathrooms, bedrooms, the kitchen, everything I could find. No smoke. I checked outlets and they weren't hot.
At that point, I thought, "Oh! Maybe the batteries are going bad in the smoke detectors." But, I also realized that more than one detector had gone off and that would be too coincidental for multiple batteries to go bad at the exact same second. I knew there had to be a real reason for multiple smoke detectors to go off at the same time.
So, I called a friend and asked for ideas. I really didn't think it was anything to worry about but I was still thinking about possible wiring that could go bad and have a slow burn in the walls (having known friends who had a house fire for this reason) and wondered if I should call the fire department for advice.
As I was talking on the phone to my friend, the smoke detectors went off again. Not good.
She hung up with me and immediately called her engineer husband for advice as I ran around and checked the house again. I then realized that the only detectors that were beeping were the electric ones - the battery-powered ones were quiet. So, it probably wasn't smoke setting them off but it could be hot wires setting them off and they were on a circuit - so if one went off, they all went off.
It seemed clear that I wasn't in any immediate danger, so I pulled down the detectors themselves, which by this time were going on and off again and again - probably staying on for 10 seconds at a time and then going quiet again for a few minutes. I didn't see anything wrong with them but my friend's husband suggested we try to blow some compressed air into the detectors to see if they were dirty and perhaps dust was tripping the sensor.
My friend was at my house in less than 5 minutes with a bottle of compressed air and immediately set to work on the two detectors that were going off. The first one was cleaned with no visible issues. The second one appeared to be fine, too. Except for the tiny little spider that came running out when the compressed air was sprayed into the detector.
We both looked at each other with wide eyes. I wasn't even sure it was a spider because it was so small but she confirmed that it was. And we stood there and stood there and stood there and the detectors never went off again.
That darn little spider was running around inside the smoke detector and tripping the sensor.
The good news: the house did not burn down.
The bad news: just another reason for me to hate spiders.