The building next door was on fire this morning. The whole thing; up in flames. No it wasn’t, just a piece of wood in front of the building, but with the enormous and growing ghost of smoke it might as well have been the building.
I noticed the smell first; it wasn’t a pleasant fire smell, but it smelled like fire. As I walked toward my car I saw the smoke. It was yellow. It was ugly. I ran towards the billow because running towards a fire is exactly what you do when dressed for work and in 4″ heels.
My upstairs neighbor was running up the hill, returning from her morning jog. She was already dialing emergency so I put my phone in my pocket and ran toward the building, within inches of a fire burning in the wood landscaping, retaining, railroad-tie, whatever-you-call-it-wall, to grab the fire extinguisher. My hero cohort took it from me, justifying because she was in work-out clothes, and pulled the pin. She dashed to the fire, aimed, and blew more smoke onto the smoldering stink-pile of burning, chemical-treated wood. The fire laughed. It cackled and burned on.
She handed me back the fire extinguisher and said, “spray until it’s empty. I’m going to the office to get maintenance and another one.” It only took about three seconds to empty in the inadequate can. There are other buildings on either side, both also with external extinguishers which remained in their red, glass-door cases, forgotten, their cries to help going ignored and unheard over the calamity.
While I waited for my neighbor to run back from the office I knocked on doors. I needed to find a car owner. The silver Impala was parked on the other side of the sidewalk from the fire, and right next to the fire hydrant. Because the fire hydrant is always used for every fire. An elderly man with a cane claimed the car. “Give me your keys and I’ll move it,” I said, offering to speed things up.
By now the crowd was gathering. My neighbor and I, two maintenance employees (ripping off the wood blocks and throwing them into the parking lot), a neighborhood walker (concerned about impending doom), and three of the four building residents (contemplating the 4th resident and only smoker’s obvious absence) were gathered when the fire truck arrived. “I hope they know where we are,” said one bystander. “This gathering will give it away. That and the smoke,” I answered.
The first firefighter jumped out of the passenger seat as the truck slowed. He had a scary mustache, unacceptable since it is no longer November. The driver was overweight and bald. Then the crew emerged from the back of the truck. Not a one of them was calendar quality.
I considered standing by a bit longer to observe the action, but I was already late for work, and I was doubtful of the quality of the action. My clothes smelled of fire, but I didn’t change. If I don’t smell like smoke, I thought, no one will ever ask me why I am late today.