makiki fire

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I was on the phone with my buddy Derick talking about buying used cars. Honda good, toyota good. Ask to see maintenance receipts, that sort of thing.

A lady outside says, “call 911″. She doesn’t sound very serious, and we start unlocking the sliding doors to get to the balcony to see what’s up. Then more persistently and louder, “someone call 911, your building is on fire!”

Whoah. “Gotta call you back, *click*.”

We get out onto the balcony, though we can’t see the lady because there’s a large tree outside our apartment. The fellow below and to the right yells, “what floor?” and she counts it up, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Seventh floor”

I dial 911 and I’m on hold. As I wait, more shouts from people outside to get out of the building.

As this is happening, I can actually feel “the stupid” starting to set in. That part of you that doesn’t think straight when panicking. The basic instinct part of my brain was shouting, “GET OUT JUST GET OUT” and the thinking part is saying, “ahhh, it’s probably not a serious fire, there’s probably lots of time to grab stuff, and it’s on the 7th floor, hmm, what should I bring? Why can’t I think?” Evgenya was more together. She grabbed her laptop, got her shoes and kept telling me to come, to get out.

I wandered back and forth, sort of waiting to see if the 911 operator would come online, then gave up on it and hung up. I must have gone into the bedroom at least 3 times, looked intently all over the floor for my shorts because I just knew I should see them. It turned out they were in the laundry.

What was scary was how paralyzed I was because of it. I couldn’t do anything else before finding my shorts because at any moment I might have to dash outside, and who wants to be wandering around in their undies all day looking silly? Compared to that, was the possibility of DEATH BY FIRE. And yet, based on the consequences versus the odds my brain was choosing to look for my shorts. Stupid.

I eventually found some swim trunks and put them on backwards. I got my laptop and power cord, couldn’t find my shoes, grabbed my cellphone and we headed out. Totally forgot my wallet. I handed Evgenya my bag and went upstairs to knock on people’s doors. After a few floors I was encouraged in no uncertain terms to descend by Evgenya who was standing outside.

After doing a few floors and finding no-one I went back down. The fire trucks had arrived but the firemen didn’t seem to be doing anything. I called my buddy Geoff who’s a firefighter with the Langford fire department and he said they were probably assessing the scene and the plan of attack. Makes sense to me, this wasn’t the kind of fire to rush into. As it turned out they also didn’t have a source of water within the building which slowed things down as well.

Downstairs, we watched the building burn for about an hour. I didn’t take this picture, but it shows the fire at it’s worst.

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Ultimately the fire consumed 5 units, from the 7th floor right to the top of the building. The concrete walls and floors must have prevented it from moving sideways or down, but they said if the building had sprinklers it would have been just one unit that was damaged. The building is old though, so it’s grandfathered under the old code, unfortunately.

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Our apartment is near where the trees are on the left, on the 3rd floor. Standing outside we spoke to some board members who seemed unconcerned with the fact that the fire exits weren’t even marked. As in, not marked at all in any way. Here’s a picture of the garbage chute door, the fire exit door and our neighbour’s door. Can you tell which is which?

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Now pretend it’s 3:00 AM, you just woke up to an alarm bell, it’s smoky and you’re 70 years old and trying to find the stairs in teh dark. Or perhaps you’re a guest in the building.

That’s gotta be some kind of negligence on behalf of the board, ya think? When we first asked the board member about it, the first thing he said was “you didn’t say anything to the press did you?” Well no, Evgenya didn’t. But maybe we should. We did tell several different firemen, but I wonder if a little public attention might be a good thing.

The doors also aren’t the push-to-exit doors that are (I believe) legally required back home in Victoria. Those are designed so they’re easy to open, even simply by running into them as might happen in a fire.

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Evgenya was interviewed by the press a few times and was quoted in a newspaper. They even spelled her name right. A lady ran out of her house with some pop for the channel 9 crew. Kinda depressing that she was giving it to them and not this poor fellow, who just lost everything he owned in the world.

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Thank God everyone was ok.

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