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Friday, January 30, 2009

In which our building catches fire and we contemplate rental insurance and escape plans while our apartment fills with smoke.

I heard the voices first. Somebody was talking on their cellphone outside our window again. Can't these people find a better place to talk in the middle of the freezing winter night? Then I heard the knocking, first on the door of the apartment next to ours. It's not unusual for them to be knocked at in the night, as they are frequent abusers of loud music at all hours, and have pissed plenty of people off. But there was knocking somewhere else, too. And then I heard the cellphone girl say, "Somebody's alarm is going off. I'm not sure whose. It's the Wright Apartments."

Is my alarm going off? I wondered to myself, half asleep. Sometimes I worry that I sleep through my alarm a little too long and might annoy my neighbors. My eyes opened in slits and peered at the clock. 1:00. I had only been asleep for an hour, Ian a little longer. But I could hear an alarm-like sound in the distance. And then I smelled the scent of a campfire.

I grabbed my glasses off the nightstand and got up, making my way to the living room. Someone's alarm was definitely going off. Didn't sound like a car alarm. I opened the front door and stood in the doorframe, peering out into the courtyard. People were running around below knocking on doors. I caught some of their glances and we just looked at each other, confused. I didn't ask What's going on? And they didn't offer it. I heard sirens sound in the distance, and I stepped back inside, shutting the door.

Back in my bedroom I pulled back the blanket that acts as a makeshift drapery on the window and split the blinds with two fingers. Two fire engines were pulling up fifth south, on the other side of the Trax line. They would have to make a U-turn at the light. Several people were standing outside in the walkway below our window. Our next door neighbors were there, and the girl with the cellphone to her ear, and a couple other people I didn't recognize. We don't really know any of our neighbors, I realized.

"What's going on?" Ian asked behind me, groggily.

"I think there's a fire in the building. Can you smell it? Someone's alarm is going off, and people are knocking on doors downstairs."

"Should we get out?" He asked, sitting up. He began pulling on some jeans and a T-shirt.

"I don't think we're in danger, I think it's downstairs. There are firetrucks outside."

"Well let's put our clothes on in case we need to vacate."

I grabbed my hoodie and zipped it up over my pajamas, then grabbed a pair of socks from my dresser drawer. We made way for the living room, and Ian grabbed his coat while I slipped on my converse. We peered outside through the blinds and front door, trying to see what was going on, but there was nothing to see. We went back into the bedroom and looked through the blinds again at the firetrucks below.

"Nobody's rushing around down there. We probably don't have to worry. I think we can try to go back to sleep," I said.

I visited the bathroom, and upon returning announced that the smell was worse in there, probably because of the vent. I slipped off the converse and slipped under my down comforter, placing my glasses on the nightstand and snuggling my face into the pillow. Ian replaced his jeans with pajama pants and turned off the light.

Then the smell suddenly got worse. Ian switched the light back on, "Is it smoky in here?"

"I don't know, I'm not wearing my glasses."

"Let's get out."

We pulled our clothes back on, and grabbed our coats and my cellphone. I hesitated a moment, glancing over at the grove of guitars in the corner of the living room, but then I looked away and we went outside.

Downstairs we could see smoke streaming up from the basement level. "That must be where it is, then," I said. Our landlord was standing on the ground floor looking down toward the basement, and Ian asked him, "Is there someplace we should go? Or is that side of the building safe?"

The landlord looked at Ian and said, "Well, what happened was the water heater in this unit caught fire, and they thought they could contain it from in there, but the fire burned down through the floorboards into the basement apartment. So they're going to cut down through the floor and try to contain it."

Having not had our question answered, we decided to play it safe, and went around the back way to the front of the building. A third firetruck was pulling up. We joined the people congregated out front, and watched the firefighters dragging their tools and hoses about. By the time the fourth firetruck arrived, we noticed the smoke billowing out from the walkway underneath our window. "That's why we could smell it so bad," I said pointing, "It's probably leaking in through our window. That explains the condensation on the glass too."

We stood around for a long while, and I cursed myself for choosing the least warm shoes I own, and for neglecting to put on my leg warmers after my shower earlier that evening.

"I guess we don't really have an emergency plan," Ian said suddenly.

"Well, the plan is: Get Out!" I said.

"Yeah, but I mean we could have a bag with some clothes in it, maybe some clothes we don't really like, or something."

"I guess so. We could use the yellow camping bag, since it's otherwise useless."

"Something to think about anyway."

"I guess you should figure out what it is you love the most, and make way for it first in an emergency."

"Well, I wouldn't grab what I loved the most; probably what was most useful -- my laptop."

"Yeah, it does have all your songs on it," I said. "I would go straight for the grove of guitars and grab as many as I could. Screw my computer. It doesn't have anything important, except my pictures." Then I thought about what a shame it would be to lose my pictures, and suddenly I wished I could carry both my computer and my guitars to safety in case of an emergency.

We stood around for 15 or 20 more minutes until the smoke stopped billowing, and the firefighters began to look more relaxed. A news channel had arrived, late as usual, and began shooting the scene and interviewing a firefighter.

"We're on the scene of a house fire at the Wright Apartments," I mocked. "It's not quite clear what the situation is currently."

Ian joined in, "Firefighters are saying there might still be fire somewhere in the building."

We laughed. Newscasters always paint their stories in vagaries and unsureties whenever there's really not much of a story, maybe to keep the audience interested.

A few minutes later, our landlord conferred with the fire master, and then said everyone who didn't live in apartments 1 and 6 were safe to go back inside. That was us, so we went back up to our apartment. We opened the door to a haze of smoke. "Ah, crap," I said, "Now everything is going to reek of smoke."

Our bedroom was the worst. The smoke must have worked its way around the edges of our ancient single-paned windows. No wonder our heating bill is so expensive this year. The windows are not adequately sealed. We opened the windows all over the apartment and turned on various fans and vents. Eventually the haze cleared out, but the scent of campfire has inundated all our possessions. "At least it wasn't our apartment that burned," I said to Ian, "That's the bright side, just think of that." The irony is that Ian had earlier that evening stated that he wanted to make breakfast for dinner, but didn't want to make our apartment smell of bacon. Bacon sounded like a pretty good smell to me right then.

We gathered some blankets and made a camp in the living room, which was much less smoky than our bedroom. "And at least tomorrow is Friday," I iterated. Then we drifted off to sleep.


I'd like to thank the Salt Lake Fire Department for their quick action and professional expertise, without which our entire building may have caught fire, and we'd have a lot more to worry about than smoky possessions. Thanks, guys!


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15 comments:

SoMi's Nilsa said...

So glad to hear you guys are OK. That stuff kind of horrifies me. Mostly because I never think about it. I never think "what would I grab" or even worse, "how will I get my dog out of our condo." Ugh, maybe my husband and I need to come up with an emergency plan, too.

[sbg] said...

Does it still smell like smoke? Smoke stains on the white brick out side? Take some more pictures!

Frank said...

Glad you are ok. And, thanks for the action plan. Now I know, grab the laptop and the guitar and hike it. I will sleep better tonight. : )

Claire said...

Whew! I'm so glad to hear you're okay!

My old roomie (let's call him C) used to make fun of me for being an insurance maniac, but renter's insurance saved the day when my sister's homemade candles nearly burned our apartment to a crisp. I lost the bed, my weights and several pairs of shoes, but the worst thing was that it was new year's eve, so everybody's coats went up with the bed. Thanks to my insurance mania, everybody got a check for their torched coats, I got paid for everything I lost due to smoke, water and fire damage, and C learned not to shut the f-ing door on unattended candles just so he could use the mirror.

The moral of the story? RENTER'S INSURANCE is the secret to happy tenancy. Also, if you're an artist/author, having an automated external backup via Firewire or USB means never losing everything if you have to exit, stage left, in a hurry. You just grab that mother and book it.

Oh, and pretending you've been camping helps with the smoke smell. For, like, a week. Then it's Febreeze time.

tauns said...

Man...glad to hear you didn't loose all your belongings!!

We have a plan in case of an emergency...I grab one child, my husband grabs the other. If he isn't home, I grab both. We grab the dog on the way out. We have an external hard drive that we back up all our pictures and important stuff too and it is in a fire/water proof huge safe. As long as my family and I make it out, we will be okay and our insurance will be writing a check.

sov said...

I'm glad you're ok, and I admit I got a little scared when you texted me at 1AM on a work-night. I knew right away that something was amiss, and I'm happy it came out well. Sucked that you got smoked out of your room though.

Renter's insurance is required for my place here in the Mexican ghetto. That's about the only thing I think is good about it. I'm sure it helped a lot to those people whose apartments exploded last Fall. I agree with Claire that it's a good investment. It's cheap, and likely worth it. I sleep a little better knowing I have it myself.

Sra said...

There are no more pictures, sorry. That picture was taken on my shitty camera phone, because that's all I had on me at the time. I almost got one where the firefighters opened the hydrant, but then the water started spraying down toward us bystanders, and we all fled back 10 or 20 feet, so I missed the photo. I could have shot the water heater with a big burn mark up the side the following day, but that's not very interesting.

Our apartment is starting to smell better. We did some spraying with odor neutralizers and diluted fabric softener, and we are going to put down this arm and hammer carpet stuff to vacuum up.

I will probably call my insurance company and have them tack on a renter's policy. It's cheap and worth the peace of mind.

tennessee mike said...

Last night when my wife and I were watching "Groundhog Day," I started to smell something burning in our apartment. We searched all over and finally deduced that it was coming from the dishwasher. Turns out, the screw cap from a nalgene bottle had reached the heating element at the bottom.

Good to hear you guys made it out okay!

Erin said...

I owe the SLC FD, too. My apartment was within 7 feet of a mansion that completely burned a year or so ago. Bad news! We totally thought our building would go, too.

There was no more contemplating renters insurance. Got it the next week. Which is good bc my apartment has been burgled twice since then.

heidikins said...

Holy Crap! How did I not hear about this earlier? (Note obvious stepping away from The Internets.)

I am so glad you're ok! Goodness, that could have been so much worse.

Also, on renter's insurance. Mine costs me less than $3 a month because I got a discount for having multiple policies (car, renter) with my company. $3 a month for peace of mind that my shoes are safe is soooo worth it.

xox

Archivistimo! said...

Wowzers! I can't believe that the apts were on fire! Insane. I am glad that you guys were ok.

I think that I would probably be like Ian and grab my computer, and maybe my birth certificate. Being an archivist I know how important documents are, hee hee hee.

Glad you're safe.

tennessee mike said...

Last night when my wife and I were watching "Groundhog Day," I started to smell something burning in our apartment. We searched all over and finally deduced that it was coming from the dishwasher. Turns out, the screw cap from a nalgene bottle had reached the heating element at the bottom.

Good to hear you guys made it out okay!

tauns said...

Man...glad to hear you didn't loose all your belongings!!

We have a plan in case of an emergency...I grab one child, my husband grabs the other. If he isn't home, I grab both. We grab the dog on the way out. We have an external hard drive that we back up all our pictures and important stuff too and it is in a fire/water proof huge safe. As long as my family and I make it out, we will be okay and our insurance will be writing a check.

Claire said...

Whew! I'm so glad to hear you're okay!

My old roomie (let's call him C) used to make fun of me for being an insurance maniac, but renter's insurance saved the day when my sister's homemade candles nearly burned our apartment to a crisp. I lost the bed, my weights and several pairs of shoes, but the worst thing was that it was new year's eve, so everybody's coats went up with the bed. Thanks to my insurance mania, everybody got a check for their torched coats, I got paid for everything I lost due to smoke, water and fire damage, and C learned not to shut the f-ing door on unattended candles just so he could use the mirror.

The moral of the story? RENTER'S INSURANCE is the secret to happy tenancy. Also, if you're an artist/author, having an automated external backup via Firewire or USB means never losing everything if you have to exit, stage left, in a hurry. You just grab that mother and book it.

Oh, and pretending you've been camping helps with the smoke smell. For, like, a week. Then it's Febreeze time.

Sra said...

There are no more pictures, sorry. That picture was taken on my shitty camera phone, because that's all I had on me at the time. I almost got one where the firefighters opened the hydrant, but then the water started spraying down toward us bystanders, and we all fled back 10 or 20 feet, so I missed the photo. I could have shot the water heater with a big burn mark up the side the following day, but that's not very interesting.

Our apartment is starting to smell better. We did some spraying with odor neutralizers and diluted fabric softener, and we are going to put down this arm and hammer carpet stuff to vacuum up.

I will probably call my insurance company and have them tack on a renter's policy. It's cheap and worth the peace of mind.

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