Two things about the fire next door surprised me.
More than surprise, it shocked me how quickly the house was consumed: how quickly the flames moved through the structure and began pouring out of the attic; how quickly the entire house turned deadly.
The other surprise was more personal: I hesitated before calling 9-1-1.
It couldn’t have been more than half a second, but the hesitation was there. There was a blink of a moment to realize what I was seeing, and another blink to decide that, yes, calling 9-1-1 would be the right thing to do.
It started with a loud thump and a rushing sound that shook the ground – like a very strong gust of wind, or a jet taking off. But it was both too loud and too sustained for either.
I stepped outside to look for the source. It seemed to come from the west, so I walked out to the garden… and holy cow!
The aforementioned flames quickly caught my attention.
I ran back inside and shouted, “Call 9-1-1!”
Donna tossed me the phone that she had already picked up.
This is all to show how quickly events transpired: so far, we’re still talking on the order of seconds, not even minutes.
By the time I got through to 9-1-1 and was transferred to the fire department – still talking seconds here, folks – I was watching the flames grow from a torch-like jet that seemed to be emanating from the basement into a fireball nearly the height and half the width of the house.
By the time I had relayed my information to the fire operator, flames were shooting from under the roof at the end of the house.
What are we talking now? A minute? Minute and a half?
I walked up my driveway to where I could see the front of the house. A tight knot developed in my gut as I hoped fervently that this was not one of the unusual times when there was anyone there, because already there was certainly nothing that I could possibly do. The building was filled to overflowing with a dense black smoke that surely had already put paid to any living thing inside.
In a few minutes, sirens announced the arrival of fire crews.
The firefighters rolled out their hoses and got right to work.
Brisk winds form the east had kept our house and garage out of danger.
There was nobody inside.
But the lesson was clear: if you want to get out of a burning house alive, you’ve got to be ready.