Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Fire Visits Home

It's fire season again and like every summer, it feels like the entire state is burning up. So last night, really early this morning at 3:00AM I started to smell smoke. My room is torn up with heat, so I'm already struggling to sleep. At first I'm thinking there must be a wind that is carrying smoke from the fires down to the city and it's strong. Then I realize it's bullshit. There is no way it could smell this strong from that great off a distance.

I look out my window and see nothing, but my paranoia of the apartment burning down wins and I get up. My urge to urinate beats out my curiosity about the fire, so the bathroom gets priority. That's when I notice I don't smell any smoke in the bathroom. Am I just having some weird sensory short circuit. Did I have some sort of odd dream and my mind was making up the smell?

I get dressed, debate for a few seconds about shoes and then go outside barefoot, paying close attention to the ground. No smoke. Odd. I'm sniffing around like a dog on a scent and I'm not getting anything. Then, like crossing an invisible line, it hits me. Very strong. Something is burning. It's the burning fire smell, not the electrical fire smell. But there is nothing to see. I'm looking up at apartments and trying to use x-ray vision through curtains ad blinds to catch a glimpse of flickering orange. Nothing.

Turning around I finally see it. The giant plastic lids are down, but I can see the glowing red of a fire emanating from the dumpster that is located beneath my window. Cockroaches are running in a furious pattern over the outside of the dumpster, their home is in flames and they have no idea what to do. Though it is not my wish to save their home, there is a strong desire to save mine. So I dial 911 on the cell.

Lot's of things are running through my mind right now. What if they think I set it? What if someone else has called and I look like a fool calling it in again. How serious should I sound? Then the operator picks up. I start to explain there is a fire and they ask me to hold while I'm transferred to the fire department. I hold about 30 seconds. Then I'm put through to a guy. I explain the dumpster is on fire in the back alley and give him the address. There is a bit of confusion because I'm calling from a Bay Area number in Los Angeles and a street named Detroit. The poor reception doesn't help, but it is sorted out quickly and I'm supposed to wait for the truck to get there so I can point it out.

I'm standing out on the street, hearing the sirens getting closer and for the first time ever, knowing exactly where the sirens will end up. The truck pulls up and I point out the dumpster, which looks very calm, now I'm feeling like an idiot. Maybe the fire smothered itself out.

One of the firemen follows me into the alley with a flashlight and as soon as the beam hits the dumpster, the visual of smoke pouring out of the seams takes over and I feel a little redemption. I'm not wasting anyone's time. This may not be the Hindenburg fire of dumpsters, but it's a legitimate fire. Some other firemen come running up and try to open the lid, but it's to hot and they ask for "The one inch" from the truck. Part of me wants to stay and find out what this mysterious "one inch" is, but the other half of my brain is screaming to get back upstairs and close my window before water drenched the dumpster and the pillar of smoke b-lines it for my room.

In a stupid way, I ask if I'm needed. Like they're going to say, "You can't leave. You're the key to our plan. We need you to help get this thing out!" In stead the guys says I can leave and thanks for the help. So I did my part. I run back upstairs, close all the windows and wait while lights flash, hoses begin to shoot pressurized noise, I'm also guessing water, and the situation is brought under control. It was probably no more then ten minutes until they were gone.

My room was now a furnace from lack of air movement and I kept debating if I should open the window again. I watched TV for another 20 minutes, decided my lungs could take the remaining smoke and my body couldn't stand the heat. Opening the window, the scent of burnt trash and roach carcasses wafted into the room and slowly, I drifted off to sleep.

All around, the situation went well. Nothing was damaged, I didn't spend the rest of the night waiting for the fire to be put out and I didn't have to club my roommate over the head and use him as a human shield to escape the flames. So as far as new experiences go, I'll give it a 7 out of 10.

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