Today at approximately 2:00 AM, three of my neighbors homes went up in flames. These homes are 2, 3, and 4 doors from me. The home that went up first was #3. Grandma Liz lives there. She has lived in that house for as long as anyone can remember, rearing her kids and then her grandchildren. (Her granddaughter is the obnoxious teenager I threatened to take on a road trip to Nebraska last summer). My across-the-street neighbor, 40 something Eleanor, who has returned home to live with her own mother in the house she was born in, cannot remember when Grandma wasn’t there. Grandma has been on oxygen for years and seldom leaves the house. A few months ago she had a stroke and is paralyzed on one side. She has been staying with her sister while she recovers.
Eleanor told me that shortly before 2:00 AM she smelled smoke. The smell was so strong that she looked around the house for a fire and even felt the walls for heat. When she found nothing she checked outdoors. She found Grandma’s house engulfed in flames so thick that she couldn’t even see the house. Eleanor called 911, and her sister who also lives with their mother, ran across the street to bang on neighboring doors.
At about the same time, one of the women directly across the street from me was awakened by the glare of flames coming from the house. She called 911. Sean, who lives two houses down from her also called. News reports today indicate that police, investigating a nearby car fire, also saw smoke and alerted fire fighters.
I had been up until after 1:30 re-writing BN’s testimony against SB 499. One of our Texas members was scheduled to present it in Austin this morning. I had just gone to bed. Fire sirens are environmental here.The fire station is very close by, and we hear engines almost every night so we really don’t hear them. When the engines turned down my street, however, they cut their sirens. Like others on our street I didn’t know about the fire until I heard a lot of truck noises in the alley behind us and the sound of radios. I got up and saw the lights of the trucks over my fence. Out front, fire trucks lined our street from Hudson clear down to the ravine. My normally curious bad cats were hunkered down on the floor, tails puffed up, not moving. Another neighbor, Carolyn, who does Pug rescue told me her “girls” had awakened her and her husband yipping around at the commotion.
By the time I got outside House #2 was on fire. Flames were roaring in the second storey while firefighters smashed out the upstairs windows. Due to the high trees, fire trucks in the street and the area being blocked off, I didn’t realize immediately that Grandma’s house was the center of the fire. As the night wore on, Carolyn came by and told me #4 was on fire as well.
Grandma’s grandson, who lives only a couple blocks away, had just gotten home from work when the fire started. He was in bed and wouldn’t answer his phone when Eleanor and her family called him repeatedly. Finally someone got him. He was charged with the bad news of telling his grandmother.
10% of my street was ablaze. John, who lives across the street, and mowed my lawn when he was a kid, could barely speak. Grandma had been his second grandma. And now we watched a lifetime disappear in the smoke. I cannot imagine what it is like to have all tangible evidence of your life wiped out in a few minutes.
So far, the cause of the fire is unknown. I hope it wasn’t arson. Workers were in the house earlier in the day so that route is being investigated. Fire investigators found remains of a couple oxygen tanks in the house, which might explain why it went so fast. The only thing that survived the flames are 3 lawn chairs and a couple yard decorations in the back. And the flower garden in the front yard. The house, of course, will be demoed as soon as the investigation is finished. I don’t know how it still stands tonight.
The others houses were saved. The Columbus Dispatch (link now gone) reported that #2 suffered $20,000 damage and #4 $12,000. I don’t believe that for a minute, especially #2. Workers were out this morning tearing out walls.
Luckily, no one was hurt or killed, though a firefighter was taken to the hospital for a shoulder injury. Grandma’s house was empty. The owners of #2 are on an extended trip and someone was living there but wasn’t home at the time of the fire. I don’t know about #4.
The kitties acted out this morning (it’s all my fault) but seem back to normal now.
Tonight some of Grandma’s family came by to pay their last respects. When she heard the news last night she wanted to come, but was disuaded by her family. I don’t know if she came today or not.
In the first week of June 1991, I was in a fire in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). I was living in Plekhanova, at the the international student hostel at the Herzen Institute where I had gone to study Russian. We were firebombed by one of the local mafia, so the story goes, because Herzen hadn’t paid the contractor for the new bar downstairs. I heard the explosion, but I was about as far away from the fire as I could get. I got dressed, packed up my laptop and $2500 in cash and left. The Leningrad fire department took its time showing up ,and then rushed into the building, fire hoses in hand, cigarettes hanging from their mouths. It was, to say the least, an amusing scene. Luckily no one was harmed by the fire, though 6 rooms housing Dutch students were destroyed.
That fire was scary, but a distanced fire and fear. I had no real stake in the loss outside of a possible inconvenience. I had only been there a couple days, and since the airline had lost my baggage I really didn’t have anything in my room yet. But this time it was different. 30 seconds away from my house a fire was destroying a lifetime.
Tonight, as the sun goes down,the house burning smell is still in the air. I can feel it my eyes and on my tongue and even, strangely in my fingertips which feel heavy and tingly as I type this. We are all living on the edge of surprise, disaster, and tragedy. If we thought about it, we’d never get anything done.
Channel 10 coverage with video and pictures is here.