Thursday, August 08, 2002

I'm still shaking from this morning's fire, pretty weepy. I don't think I've ever been that scared before, especially now that it's over, the firemen, police and ambulances are gone and I can finally sit and think about what could have possibly happened. Not that I wasn't thinking before.

The six of us who live in this building spent the hours between 4:30 and 6:30 this morning sitting out by the pool because our apartments had too much smoke. We had originally been sitting close to the building on a picnic table, but then had to move, as the smoke was billowing out.

The 911 operator was great. She was so calm - I wasn't really that hysterical when I called, as I had stepped outside to avoid the smoke and I couldn't see the source of the fire, but I only knew it wasn't in my apartment. She asked me about smoke and so I came back into the apartment briefly and had to turn away - the smoke made it hard to breathe, not to mention stung the eyes. That's when I got scared, grabbed my keys, the cordless phone, my wallet and got out of the apartment. I later came back with Edward (my across the way neighbor) to open the sliding glass door and bedroom windows to let all the smoke out.

The smoke alarms in my neighbors' apartments did not go off. That is rather worrisome. The only thing I can think of is that the fire started in the bathroom of this other apartment and that bathroom shares a wall with my bathroom, so all of the smoke came through the ceiling duct.

The firemen got here within minutes - I was so surprised. After I hung up the phone, my neighbor Edward was out of his place and the two of us went around to the other side to find out who else was there (being summer, four out of the eight apartments in my building are empty - but given how little we interact with each other, we didn't know which if any of the apartments were actually occupied, so both of us pounded on the doors, because it was 4 in the morning and we had to wake people up from dead sleep). But we had barely woken everyone up when the firemen showed up. There were two trucks, two police cars and the ambulance. I think probably 5 to 7 minutes at most had passed since I had called 911.

The firemen came out in full gear. They had masks, oxygen, heavy suits (btw, it was close to 80 degrees at the time - poor guys, so much equipment, they must have been so hot) and everything. They brought fans to blow the smoke out of all the apartments, fire extinguishers and a cool thermal camera, which one of the fireman showed me. He said that finding the source of the fire was pretty easy with that camera, as it shows all heat sources as bright white.

I got really upset when I saw the ambulance pull up because I was thinking that maybe we had missed someone, hadn't woken everyone up, especially since by then, the firemen had broken into the apartment where the fire was and all I could think was that there was someone in there. The four people who live on that side said that they didn't think anyone was in there. They were right. Later, the police officer came out to the pool to brief us and said that the fire had started because the bathroom fan had been left on for a prolonged period of time. The fan had overheated, sparked, and caused a chain reaction, hence the fire.

Anyway, check your smoke alarms. Seriously. Out of four apartments, only my alarm went off (not counting the alarm in the apartment where the fire started - which I could also hear through my wall). At least one other alarm should have gone off in one of the other occupied apartments. By the time I woke up, there was already smoke in my apartment and within minutes, I had to flee the place because it was strong. The same thing happened with everyone else. In fact, have a couple of smoke alarms. It's impossible to realize just how important this is until one saves your life.

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