As some of you already know, there was a fire in my building several days ago. Here’s the full story…
It all started at around 9:30am. I had a friend crashing with me, and we were both asleep. She was on the couch in the living room, which is right near the front door, so when the doorbell rang unexpectedly and woke us both up, she was the one to answer it. In my state of half-sleep, I recognized the voice she was talking to. It was one of the guys that works in the building. I didn’t hear what he said — I figured he was bringing up a FedEx package or something — so I closed my eyes and tried to fall back asleep.
My friend walked into my bedroom.
“There’s a fire!” she yelled.
“What?!” I answered. I sat up. I didn’t smell any smoke or hear any noise. The only thing I noticed was that my bladder was ready to explode.
“There’s a FIRE!” she repeated. “We have to get OUT OF HERE!!!”
“Fire or no fire,” I said, “I gotta take a piss.”
Looking back on it, that was pretty stupid on my part, but what can I say? The alleged “fire” didn’t seem like a big deal at that point, and I seriously had to pee. I was about to pee all over myself — it was THAT bad — so I figured I’d spend an extra minute taking care of business and then head downstairs.
Well, wouldn’t you know it…it turned out to be one of those pisses that kept going and going and going. You know the kind, right? Just when I thought I was done, the stream rejuvenated itself — except it trickled out really slowly…and kept going…and going. If only there’d been an official from Guinness, I might have set a world record. Anyway, while I was standing there, I thought about the items I’d grab on my way out, and I came up with the following list: laptop, cell phone, camera, and a pair of disposable one-day contact lenses. (Hey, the lenses were right there on a shelf over the toilet. Why not?)
By the time I stepped out of the bathroom, the smell of smoke had seeped into my apartment, and I could hear the faint sound of firetrucks. This is when it first occurred to me that the fire might be serious — and closer to my apartment than I’d originally thought. I live on the eighth floor of a 15-story building. I mean, what are the odds?
I quickly packed up my computer and grabbed the other items.
“HURRY!!!” shouted my friend.
The smell of smoke was getting stronger. I grabbed my keys as we raced toward the front door, and when I opened it, we were blasted by thick black smoke. The hallway was filled with it. It was so strong that I couldn’t breathe and so thick that I couldn’t even see the lock from SIX INCHES AWAY when I pulled the door shut behind me. I was wearing a hoodie, so I yanked the cloth up over my nose and crouched down low. I heard lots of people shouting. The building’s fire alarms were wailing. Someone was holding the emergency staircase door open, and I darted toward it with my friend. While we were heading downstairs, at least a dozen firefighters were heading up. Those guys are incredible. My lungs hurt. My throat hurt. My eyes were stinging. I was running away from what felt like a near-death situation, and those men were racing toward it. Truly amazing.
By the time I got outside, the entire street was blocked off. There were firetrucks all over the place, and there was smoke pouring out of the building. I turned on my camera and started filming. Here’s a low-quality screen shot:
Thirty seconds later, I heard the sound of shattering glass. I was already (thankfully) standing at a safe distance from the building, so I looked up and saw the windows being smashed. Thousands of shards of glass rained down onto the sidewalk. Then two giant window screens were bashed out and plunged to the street.
With my camera still rolling, I moved across the street and got some footage of all the on-lookers:
Then I stopped filming and took some (high-quality) pics. Here’s one that shows some of the firetrucks:
I still had no idea where exactly the fire had started, so I started counting the floors: one, two, three, four, five, six…I started getting that awful sinking feeling in my gut…seven…EIGHT?!?!?!
The fire was ON MY FLOOR. The smoke had stopped pouring out of the windows, so I figured that was a good sign in terms of my own apartment being okay, but what about water damage? And how about the smoke?
There was an SUV parked nearby that had a large side mirror. I used it to put in my contact lenses, then took a few more pics and made some phone calls, and finally, after half an hour, I was allowed back into the building.
I had to walk back upstairs. On each floor, there was water pouring out onto the landing through a space in the service elevator door, and the smell of smoke kept getting stronger. At one point, I had to step aside to let some firefighters through:
There were so many of them that I lost count. Then came the moment of truth. I made it back to the eighth floor. There was sooty water everywhere (uh-oh) and the smell of smoke was so strong that it was still tough to breathe. Here’s a photo of the hallway, taken from just inside the doorway of my apartment. The open door at the far end (where a neighbor’s kid is standing) is the burnt-out apartment:
My apartment was not damaged at all, but it was VERY smoky. I opened all the windows and then went to check out the actual fire damage.
Here’s a pic of the broken windows in the burnt-out apartment:
Why is it so empty in there?
Because the place was under renovation. The theory about how the fire started is that the contractors were treating the wood floors with some chemicals, and they left a rag in a sealed plastic bag; the fumes from the rag were therefore trapped and somehow self-combusted.
Check out this toasted bed frame:
Here’s some semi-charred clutter…
…and here’s the more serious damage:
Look at the ceiling:
It’s rather unsettling (as you might imagine) to think that this happened less than 50 feet from me while I was sleeping.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in the blaze.
It still smells really strong in the hallway. This past weekend, there were three huge air-suction-purification machines out there:
I’ve had to place wet towels at the bottom of my front door to try to prevent the smoky smell from coming in, but it’s not really working.
That’s about it for now. I’m okay. Everything’s good. Just wanted to share this story. And I promise that my next entry will be baseball-related.