The 56th Street Fire (May 4th, 2018)
Sleep came easy the night of May 3rd, as the Sandman lay a dusting across my eyes and I drifted off to a land sweet dreams through I remember them not – a fitting folklore for an immigrant who has spent most of his life growing up in Ballard. At some point, I recall being in that half-awake state and noticing my throat was feeling rather scratchy.
‘Oh no, not a cold coming on!’ I thought to myself. ‘Where did this come from?’ As my mind drifting to-and-from sleep. After a while, I heard the sound of rain coming in through the open window. ‘Funny, I did not recall rain being in the weather forecast?’ Still not quite coherent enough to wake up or do anything about the open window, but rather settling back in to a cozy night of sleep. I heard the rain a couple of times and proceeded to pull the blanket over my head to muffle the sound.
Sometime later I heard the sounds of sirens, not uncommon in Ballard. I usually hear the roar of firetrucks making their way down Market Street, racing towards some unknown destination. This time I heard the sirens rounding the corner and the sound grew stronger before coming to a stop and winding down, like someone letting the last of the air out of a balloon while pinching the neck – as sirens on fire trucks often do. “I think they are on our street!” I called out to my partner, who was still sound asleep. I checked the time, it was around 2:40 am. I sprung out of bed and peaked between the blinds on the bedroom window to look across the street and saw flames shooting up around one of the stairwell towers from the multi-unit rental across the street. The sound I was hearing was not that of rain hitting the side of the building, but that of wood burning and crackling under the high temperatures.
Three fire trucks were lined up in front of the building, a fourth arrived from the opposite direction. Two Red Chevy Suburban were sandwiched in the middle, in my day we would have called them Fire Marshalls – not sure about today? Eventually one of the Suburbans turned into the driveway of the apartment building my father, brother and I built in the early 1980’s, blocking my Mom’s car. “Good thing it’s not at a time when Mom would be leaving for her Bingo, or she and the Fire Marshall would be wrapped up in arm wrestling for blocking her spot!” I snickered as I called out.
I saw firemen walking back and forth on 56th street carrying hoses, pry-bars and other equipment. I saw a small gathering of people on the property line between our place and the next – looking. I saw a couple walking away from the building, the man was cradling a pet carrier, not sure if it was a dog or cat?
It did not take long to put the fire out – the first time I had seen a ladder truck, extend its ladder and to survey the roof. Good thing there were no cars blocking the alley between 56th and Markets Street – as there often is during the day and garbage trucks have a difficult time trying to get through.
As I think back to what had happened in the early hours of that morning on May 4th, I was glad no one was hurt and the fire was contained in a timely manner. I think back to my sore throat, was that a result of the wind blowing toxins from the fire in through the partially open bedroom window? But what struck my partner and I as most unusual was the fact that we did not hear the fire alarm go off from that apartment building across the street, which for over a year since it had been built kept going off intermittently with so many false alarms, that we lost count.