Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Fires of Silicon Valley

The air was chilled. Christmas trees already poked through curtains and lights blinked providing amusement on the dark walk home. We walked fast to stay warm and as we pulled a block away from our home - a long block - the fire engines rounded the corner, followed by the police. I counted three fire engines, two police cars and one police truck. "Did you turn off the stove?"
"Of course."
"We left the heater on."
"It's ok to leave the heater on!"
"Are you sure you turned the stove off?"
"That could really be our place they're at..."

It could have been our place but when we arrived, eyes stinging from the plastic smoke billowing into the air, it wasn't. It was one apartment block over.

People were running around in their house slippers yammering on their cell phones. One young man pleaded into his phone that he needed to know if insurance would cover damages. Another man stared up at the fire as he stood next to his one possession worthy of taking out the the apartment, a box of CD's.

I imagined what we would take if it was our home burning. Our laptops. And my five or so external drives with years of filmwork. The rest could burn. I felt somehow relieved to have an exit strategy in case of fire. A month previous I'd concocted my strategy after living through my first earthquake. (Welcome to california)

The firemen took their time, organizing (I assume) strategizing (I suppose) then ascended a ladder to the apartment roof. It wasn't quite like Backdraft where the heroes ran and shouted and giant balls of orange flame threatened to destroy everything. This was calm, slow, measured. I could almost imagine the Christmas lights burning out, a spark and a flame, that turned more to smoke than fire. And there we all were, standing below like toys in a Winter play, acting out our parts in slow motion.

The smoke switched from one window and was now coming out another on the top floor apartment. The firemen used a chainsaw to the cut through and drop in. It was soon over.

A Saturday night's distraction for some. A shock for the tenant of the apartment who would eventually come home and find everything blackened, destroyed. Perhaps some extra money for the young man who ran around photographing from all angles, and certainly an article in the
local news.

It was my first fire close up. I have a feeling, that if I stay in California I will get to know this scene well enough over time.

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