A house burned down in our neighborhood last night. Flames were shooting into the air, as tall as the highest trees. From the corner of the road a satin ribbon glowed orange and yellow and bright, hiding where the side and the roof of the house should have been. Alarms were beeping (in neighbor's homes I expect). Friends were rushing with garden hoses to dampen the undergrowth, to maybe protect what wasn't yet destroyed. And the air around us roared.
I stood on the corner with other neighbors who lived a few streets over. We saw the fire engines arrive, first one, then another. We wondered in fear, in a drought, how many homes might be lost with the flames shooting so hot and so high. (It was raining, though not enough to feel like it was making any difference.) Then suddenly water was gushing in an endless stream and the fire died down to crackling, flickering lights.
I was amazed and delighted at how quickly the firemen got there; amazed again at how fast they made a difference. And I went home, not my street, still got dinner to cook.
Part of me feels guilty for going to see. Part of me feels guilty again for walking over there this morning. But it's not just idle curiosity. There's the fear that it might have been me or my next-door neighbor; it could so easily be anybody's house.
The owners were away, I've heard, and are on their way back now. But their house is a shell, blackened, roofless, nothing but ashes to see through the shattered glass of the one remaining window. The fire inspector is picking through the ruin. He says it must have really taken hold before anyone noticed, before anyone could've known to dial 911...
And my ears still ring to the beeping of alarms though they're all silent now. I think how many times I've run round the house - no, it's not us, so we quickly check outside but all seems well... Another time, if I hear a neighbor's alarm, I'll walk the street till I work out whose it is, till I know it's okay. This fire was a little too close to home, and there's ashes on our drive.