the curse of interesting times


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man the pumps
firefighters are cool. heh-heh. heh-heh


Mark + Debbie
   I need to Inform that there was a fire in your Master bedroom caused by a lamp in that room. You need to contact your Insurance company or Speak with the Red Cross. If you have any questions please contact our office.
Thank you

[the apartment manager]

   at 11PM friday we arrived home to find this note on our front door instead of our wreath. they also kindly left us a souvenir on the landing outside.

   our downstairs neighbors Damon and Tammy were annoyed with our managers for leaving only a note, and had stayed up waiting for our return. they regaled us with the excitement that occurred while we were away.
   starting about 9PM the smoke detector in our bedroom went off continuously until it melted to death.
   i don’t know how much time it takes to melt a smoke detector. it was long enough for the fire to melt the candles in our bedroom candelabra, about ten feet from the dresser. it was long enough to melt the toiletries on the shower door as well as the grill of the bathroom vent, over 20 feet away.
   that black lump next to the new white smoke detector in the photo below is the old detector.


   it was long enough for five of our neighbors to leave recorded messages about this on the apartment manager’s after-hours answering machine.
   yup. i have neighbors who leave recorded messages to report a smoke detector going off.
   then after the silence had been restored a few minutes, down our hallway the next smoke detector started beeping, and the intelligent downstairs neighbor Damon stepped outside to investigate. he spied another neighbor standing around uncertainly. he also spied smoke in our kitchen.
   Damon knew deb and i are non-smokers from attending our New Years’ Bash, so he called 911 when no one answered his pounding on our door.

   two separate fire station crews arrived in about four minutes. one of the firefighters was a woman who lives in our apartment complex. i bet when she heard the address of the other company’s call, her company responded too.

   the police blocked off the road, and our building was evacuated. a neighbor from the next building broke out the beer for the evacuated ones, and voila, instant block party.
   this was nearly the exact time the Rebecca’s Mask concert deb and i were watching was starting. it was a great show, and i have the recording!

burned shoe

   anyway, back at the ranch . . .
   just after one fireman had bounced his shoulder off our front door twice, an onsite manager arrived to unlock our apartment for his hose’s crew. they had a second hose crew up a ladder to our balcony, where the firefighters were thwarted by the locks on the screen and sliding door, but ready to break the glass as required. surprise surprise, i had never really considered the balcony door locks effective before hearing this.

   with the door now open, three fireman commandoes entered, leaving the primary hose crew outside. they entered and separated to scout out the place. their voices were heard clearly outside the building by our neighbors on the sidewalk as the firefighters called out what they found: “Smelly pot in kitchen!” and, “Stereo is on!” ...until one shouted that special word, “Fire!”
   Damon says it was like watching a water ballet. ok, he didn’t say that exactly. he did say that the firemen had a hose on the flames within six seconds of the fire’s discovery, and told the onlookers to get back or be knocked over. simultaneously other firefighters opened the balcony doors, disarmed the still-screaming smoke detectors, stowed potentially flammable items like cologne and oil lamps in a closed drawer, and closed our slow stupid cat in the safe bathroom.

   i believe, but have not pursued, the idea that both cats were trapped in the bedroom with the fire. the smart fast one would have run when the firefighters opened the bedroom door, but the slow one was probably frozen, yowling in terror. both cats were sooty when we comforted them hours later.

   the firefighters threw the smouldering debris out the window, to the asphalt parking lot below, where it could cool off in relative safety under the supervision of another team of fireworkers. inside, they pulled drywall and clothing from the vicinity in search of stray sparks. other firefighters competently installed four spanking new smoke detectors in our apartment, and checked neighbors’ detectors in the same building, replacing batteries and detectors, as needed, for free.

   they also drilled a series of holes in the ceiling of the neighbors below, to drain what water had collected in our floor. despite this, our carpet is still moist three days later, but at least it isn’t wet any more; when we arrived the carpet was squishy with retained water. ditto all our clothes: all our closeted clothing and linens smelled of smoke and chemicals until we did a laundry marathon on Sunday. the waterbedding was wet; we’ve been sleeping on the futon since.

hole in drywall

   a fireman told people the situation was 4-5 minutes from a Major Fire Disaster™ when they arrived. we were fortunate the bedroom door was closed, limiting the space and more importantly the oxygen for the fire. if the door had been open, the fire could have spread throughout the apartment. as it is, the asbestos ceiling and thick closet doors prevented flames from spreading into the roofing insulation and on to other apartments.

composite photo of drywall
   the circumstances were eerie. Deb and i NEVER close the bedroom door, on account of the cats, never closing the door in over five years unless we hosted human roommates. yet the doorstop is nowhere to be found, and sooty lines of evidence display that the door was as tightly closed as possible with my bathrobe hanging on the corner.

   additionally, neither deb nor i recall turning on the culprit lamp that day. this is a lamp controlled by a wall switch that disconnects the outlet where the lamp is plugged in. in other words, no power should have been going to the lamp at all. perhaps it was on, but non-functional, a fire bomb simmering since a previous use...
   we’ve been so thankful about our fortune, we’ve concentrated on the miraculously small impact in our lives caused by this potentially devastating event.

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