Just after Alex and I snuggled up in bed, we heard loud popping outside the window.
‘Who the heck is lighting fireworks at 11:30 at night?’ Alex asked. A few more pops and I opened my eyes to check what was happening outside.
Behind the blinds was a haunting, glowing orange. Where I usually found cold air flowing from the poorly insulated window instead radiated heat.
Holy shit, I thought as I pulled the blinds back. Those aren’t fireworks. Is our building on fire?!!
I peered outside and gasped.
An apartment structure that was in the process of being built was on fire. Like, MASSIVE fire. We watched it burn from our apartment, unsure what proper fire-across-the-street protocol was. Within the longest minute, police and fire were on scene. Afraid the heat might explode the windows, we opened our bedroom window; the heat was incredible. From across a parking lot, that air was by far the hottest air I’ve ever felt.
We closed the window and put on real clothes. If I learned anything from a late night hotel fire alarm while on a business trip earlier this year, it’s that if you’re hearing a fire alarm and have time to put on a bra, put on a bra. And sweatpants instead of pajama shorts. It makes everyone’s fire experience that much more comfortable.
So we put our clothes on, continuing to come back and watch the fire roar. I’d experienced seen anything like it. The flames were taller than surrounding buildings. The crackle of the wood. The heat in the air. Enormous and surreal are the only words to describe it.
A few minutes later, the embers started catching nearby buildings on fire. I felt panicky when the roof of the building next to us started smoking – it was time to get out of our building. NOW.
Just as we started putting on our coats and gathering our most important things – I grabbed a family photo, our wedding photo cds and a cell phone charger – the building fire alarm went off, signaling that we made the right choice to get out.
Outside, we stood with our neighbors, watching the building frame crumble and the fire slowly die down.
Around 12:45 a.m., the fire had subsided enough that we felt safe going back inside. Our building is made of concrete (seriously, concrete walls!) so the risk of our building being engulfed in flames is minimal but fire is still possible.
Alex, Philly and I went back into our building, waited for the fire department to turn off our screaming fire alarm and crawled back into bed.
As we laid down, we talked about what we did, what we should have done and what we will do in the future, should some peril affect our building or community.
‘They’ always ask what you’d grab if you only had a few minutes to evacuate your home. In all the news stories I’ve read about wildfires, tornadoes or the recent floods swallowing homes, I wondered what they brought? I grabbed photos. I rationalized that important documents like marriage licenses and passports can be replaced. Clothes can be replaced, Books can be replaced. But photos can be replaced too. And maybe just because I’d had my photos out for something else recently, they were on my brain and easily accessible. But that’s what I grabbed.
And I’m sure if the danger was more imminent and not across the street, I would have chosen differently. Fortunately, none of us require medicines or special handling. I know as Philly gets older and someday there are little Petres involved, it won’t be so simple to just run out the door with wedding photos and evacuate. And when those days come, I hope Alex and I plan ahead and devise our exit strategies before disaster strikes.
You can read more about the fire here. Apparently it melted 20 cars and could be seen from 30 miles away. Still no word on what caused it but I would not be surprised to hear it was arson.
Oh, and another crazy thing? That parking lot that separated us from the fire?
Before it became a parking lot earlier this year, a burned out apartment building sat on that land. In 2003, there were two apartment buildings there until December 2003, a fire started in one of the buildings completely destroyed both buildings. One was torn down soon after the fire. The other stood until this past January.
2 enormous fires across the street from each other. Both in December. 10 years apart. (I can’t find the date of the first fires but would find it really eerie if dates were the same or similar) Coincidence?