Sunday, July 27, 2008

A steep price for boredom

So. We've had a fire.

It could have been much, much worse than it was, but it still wasn't great.

There is nothing quite like being awakened from a sound sleep at 4:40 a.m. on Saturday morning to the sound of a high-pitched fire alarm screaming at 140DB from just outside your apartment door, and the immediate sensation of a pair of previously equally sound asleep cats madly scrambling to hide under the bed or in niches of my condo I never knew existed.

My first thought was that some annoying kid or drunk person had pulled the red handle in the hallway and that this was all a false alarm. Then I looked out my window and saw the fire trucks pull up, fire fighters quickly jump out and start running around hooking up hoses, and my neighbours gathering on the opposite curb looking worriedly at something at the opposite end of the building from where I am.

I felt my kitchen door - cool. I peered out my peephole and observed no smoke. So far, so good. I tried to round up the cats to put them in the carrier I keep in the hall closet for just such an emergency, but no luck finding them. They were well and truly hidden. After a few minutes of scrambling around, it became clear to me that my part of the building was in no immediate danger, so I threw on some clothes and joined my neighbours on the street, sans cats.

And that's when I noticed that the entire front portion of the carport wasn't there anymore.

Within a couple of minutes, the fire fighters had brought the fire under control, and within 15 minutes of that, the fire was out. The three stalls closest to the street were totaled, with the roof caved in. Another few spaces up from the street were damaged. Only one vehicle was lost, but it was a total writeoff, to the point where its gas tank exploded. That pickup that looks white? It was navy blue the night before.

The condos I live in are a pair of converted three-storey apartment buildings from the 1960s that were renovated about 10 years ago and turned into condos. The two buildings, known as "A" and "B", are joined by a common wall in the middle that happens to form the outside wall of my bedroom. The carport is at the far end of "B" closest to downtown. The space from the wall of the carport to the wall of "B" is maybe five feet. My neighbours whose bedroom windows open on that wall were the ones who woke up to the sound of firecrackers and realized they could smell smoke and their bedroom windows were glowing orange. They pulled the alarm and ran around banging on some doors, waking up their immediate neighbours.

If it hadn't been for their quick-thinking, or had this happened in winter, when their windows would have been closed to sound and smells, things could have been a lot worse. As it is, most of that wall was scorched right up to the roof. The fire Lieutenant estimated that we came within 2-5 minutes of the fire getting through the side wall and into the roof. At that point, it would have spread virtually uncontrollably, given how old the building is, and that is it mostly made of old, dry timbers.

We were very, very lucky. Although it is hard to feel lucky when the Fire Marshal and RCMP tell you it is probably arson, and likely the work of marauding teenagers, and that the likelihood of their being caught is somewhere between zero and forget about it. Unless one of them feels guilty and confesses, which does happen - sometimes. My question then is, why are teenagers out on the street between 4 and 5 am? Where are their parents? How is it that they are able to wander about wreaking havoc, totally unsupervised?

This moment of teenaged boredom is going to cost our condo insurers about $100K to fix the damage. Not to mention the inconvenience, the fright, and the very real possibility that they could have taken out 25 units and approximately 70 people. And for what, exactly? A cheap thrill? A momentary break from boredom?

I have learned a few things about myself this weekend. Mostly that I, who greatly enjoys my stuff and likes hanging around the house enjoying my stuff, didn't give any thought to my things, except for the cats. I have realized that I need to pull together a folder of important papers to keep in my office or safety deposit box, since I have no master list, and had my condo burned down, I would not know who my home insurer was, what my policy number is, or how to get in touch with them. So next weekend, I am going through my filing cabinets, typing out a list of all that information, and scanning my policies and key documents to PDF files, which will then go on a jump drive, in my safety deposit box.

Apart from this list of important information, the only other thing I would be devastated to lose would be my computer, with over 10,000 digital photos that have never been printed out. So, Saturday afternoon, I headed over to our big box store and bought a 160GB portable hard drive, barely bigger than a pack of smokes. I will copy my computer hard drive over to this, and the portable drive will also go into the safety deposit box. I will have to force myself to periodically schedule updates, but that can be done.

And then once all these things are in my bank vault, should anything like this ever happen again, I will only need to grab some clothes and track down the cats, and run. As much as I love my stuff, everything is replaceable.


Megan said...

Geez. Stupid kids.

Karan said...

Good advice, Karen.

I'm glad no one was hurt.