Fire/Urban Nightmare

Approximately 13 years ago, in 2002, I was personally touched by the urban blight of fire, when it destroyed my apartment and killed my girl friend while I was away at work…I did not even know about the disaster until I came home from work and saw those ominous yellow tape police DO NOT CROSS warning signs around my apartment complex, plus a gaping hole where the heat of the fire, estimated at thousands of degrees Fahrenheit had blown out my living room window…A score of my neighbors stood outside silently and watched me pull up…

I was stunned and shocked, and remember quite clearly the feeling of disbelief as I walked inside my house, that I had just left in perfect condition that morning to go to work, transformed into a nightmare scene of devastation…

I can still hear the crunching of the broken glass as I walked across the water soaked rug, examined the blown out TV, saw the scorched and burnt marks on all my furniture and possessions and most especially I remember that horrible SMELL of the fire….It was imprinted, and will forever remain, in my brain…

The neighbors were all very sympathetic, and told me that they thought that there had been a gas explosion, because of the intense heat that blew out the window…And passers by on the local L Taraval train, which ran right past my apartment, actually phoned in the 911 to the Fire Department…

One of my neighbors I barely even knew before the fire even volunteered to keep my cat, which had been outside at the time of the fire, in her safe keeping while I dealt with the aftermath of the shock and found temporary housing since I was suddenly homeless…She also eventually helped me find a new place, shop for new furnishings, (thanks to money given to me by the Red Cross, which was extremely helpful, generous and sympathetic) and she gave me continued emotional support…We became, and remain, to this day, best friends for life…

The reason I am dredging up these old memories is because just this last Tuesday I was awakened by the horrible sounds of the fire engines racing to another fire…The sirens were loud, insistent, demanding and compelling….This fire destroyed a local bar, the Riptide, just 3 blocks from my present apartment complex…

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A crowd of local people and nearby residents crowded the sidewalk to watch as the brave fireman clambered up ladders to the roof of the buildings involved and began the grim task of putting out the fire and dousing and carrying out pieces of furniture to the street…The GOOD news was that nobody was hurt or killed in this fire, unlike in my own personal urban nightmare, where my girl friend died from severe burns and smoke inhalation……

Here is the official San Francisco Chronicle newspaper account of the local fire:

“A two-alarm fire burned a beloved bar and a convenience store next door in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood Tuesday morning, according to fire officials. The fire started at the Riptide bar at 3639 Taraval St. between 46th and 47th avenues and spread to the Great Highway Market next door. The fire was first reported at10:15 am. and a second alarm was called at 10:27 am., fire officials said. The fire was contained at 11:13 am. but there was extensive damage to both buildings — estimated to total $600,000, according to the fire department. According to reports, the Riptide was gutted in less than 90 minutes. Clouds of black smoke could be seen on streets in the area during the blaze.

No injuries were reported in the fire, according to the fire department. The cause was still under investigation Tuesday afternoon. This is tough news for music lovers in the neighborhood, as the Riptide is the only venue to hear live bands and karaoke in the Outer Sunset. Built in 1941, it was also a popular hangout for surfers and local residents; the bar held annual events such as Christmas parties and group “plunges” into the San Francisco Bay. The Riptide’s owners have vowed to rebuild and have been talking with local musicians about organizing fundraisers in the near future.”
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(Above are all photos of the Riptide before the fire)….

Upon hearing the sirens I immediately got dressed and walked the few blocks down to the fire and once again I SMELLED and tasted that horrible, sickening odor of smoke, of fire that destroys with a ravenous, insatiable, mindless hunger and it immediately brought back flashbacks, intense and horrifying memories of my own personal experience with fire…Anybody who has ever experienced that pungent odor of burnt wood and furnishings will know exactly what I am talking about….It doesn’t matter if they were victims in the woods whose homes were destroyed by the raging wildfires that have devastated northern California during our current 4 year drought, or urban dwellers who, like me, had to endure the pain and shock of a more personal nature….

Fire is a horrible, destructive force and once unleashed, it requires immediate attention…I salute the bravery of the firefighters who routinely respond to such fires, be they business or commercial establishments or raging infernos that utterly decimate, that totally destroy individual apartments or houses….They literally risk their lives every time they respond to a fire, and they never know what situation or how destructive an individual fire can be until they arrive on the scene, and over the years many of them have died in the call of duty…

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I am sure the Riptide bar will be rebuilt, and I rejoice that there were no injuries or deaths involved….But for me, the recurring nightmare of the sound of sirens wailing in the distance, then coming closer and closer, will always send me back, spiraling down the Byzantine paths of memory and pain, to my own personal experience with fire…

I sincerely hope anybody who reads this blog will take every precaution with fire safety in your own homes…. And for the rest of my life, even though it was years ago now, whenever there is a fire, I will always carry with me the almost palpable taste of shock, disbelief and the ineradicable odor, the SMELL of the fire…. It is seared into my brain, and will never go away…

Fire transforms things, utterly destroys things, in a matter of minutes, be they living human beings or inanimate objects into something twisted and broken and beyond repair…. It is a force of nature and can be contained but never fully controlled, it is always out there lurking, ready to spring into it’s malevolent mode of destruction…I hate fires, and please remember nobody is inviolate, nobody is exempt from the destructive force of fire …

It can happen to anybody, it happened to me; please, don’t let it happen to you…

Just leave it like it is right now

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