Valentine's Day was an interesting day. At around five in the morning, I was awakened by a beeping sound that I couldn't place. It wasn't happening in our apartment, so I ignored it and went to the bathroom. While in, I heard someone pounding on the front door shouting "Fire! Everybody out!", so I rushed back out to find my roommates scrambling. My partner had grabbed Zuko and was running for the door. My roommate had gone after Azula, who'd run under her bed. I sent her out and dragged Azula up, running for the door myself wearing just my night clothes and no shoes.
While running out, I wasn't even really paying attention to what was going on beyond getting to where my roommates were. Everyone was out of their apartments; Azula started freaking out while I was moving, clawing at my shoulder. Partner and I hit the ground and held the cats down while they freaked out, switching cats once they'd settled because Zuko is much more excitable and more comfortable with me. Roommate was still standing and D, our next door neighbor, comes over to us in hysterics; Roommate gives her a hug.
I don't know if that's when I looked back or if it was sooner. There were fire trucks all over, along with at leave one paramedics van, and D's apartment was in flames. Smoke was billowing like crazy. I ended up leading the others across the street to get away from the crowd, which was scaring the cats, but Zuko and Azula started making this really strange meow, which I assumed was to do with the smoke, so I led them down the street until we got to the stairs leading down into the gardens of the other apartment complex. I figured we'd be better off there-out of the wind, below the smoke, away from the people-and so we went down there and sat on the ground huddled together.
I don't know exactly how long we were down there. We took turns going up to find out what was going on, coming back to huddle together for warmth and reassure each other. I went up twice. The first time, the fire was down and the fighters were trying to get the smoke out. D had hit her head or fainted or something and the paramedics were loading her up. I tried to get more information but no one knew anything. The second time, I was losing feeling in my feet, so I went looking for the on-site manager, G, who was in his apartment with the two people who lived above D to ask for footgear and if we could come in to warm up. He of course agreed, so I brought the others over and we all sort of kept each other company waiting for the fighters to let us back in our apartments. The couple wasn't going to be able to stay in their apartment due, but the fighters came and got them to help them get supplies, then we were taken to our apartment.
Roommate and I packed bags, but we were actually able to go back because there didn't seem to be any damage. While gone, the cats had decided to hide in G's closet, so we dragged them out and went back. We all went back to bed, but I woke up way before everyone else and couldn't go back to sleep because it was freezing; the heater didn't work because the gas was shut off. I bundled up, grabbed my camera, and went out to document. I was out there for hours, talking to the various managers and maintenance/inspection people who were running around trying to deal with the problem. P, the building manager, had shown up while we were still with G; he put D's upstairs neighbors up at the Ramada because half their apartment had been damaged.
I got to go in and photograph some of the damage, piecing together what had happened with what neighbors were telling me. The fire had apparently started in the bedroom, and though D only remembers waking up to flames on the bed next to her, everyone is assuming that a space heater had been too close to the bed; one neighbor had seen a melted one in the room when he climbed over the debris the fire fighters had piled up by the window to look. The fire had completely blown out D's back window and into the one upstairs, breaking the glass and melting the blinds right off the rack. It also got into the upstairs bedroom, blackening the bed and the bathroom nearby.
No one really knows for sure, but we think that the carbon monoxide detector-which we heard in our apartment-was what woke D up and saved her life. Somehow she got out before the fire made it to the hallway. When we went in later, it had taken out most of the ceiling in the hallway and probably her bedroom; I didn't go farther than the hallway because when we went in to inspect, pieces of ceiling were still falling and I didn't want to crowd the others in case they needed to get out. The rest of the ceiling was black from smoke or fire and melted from the heat, including most of the kitchen and living room. The TV in the living room and the kitchen fan were melted, and the hardwood floor that they'd just installed a few months ago was covered in ash and starting to ripple. Outside, the fence in the back was charred and under the stairs and walkway above were blackened.
Oddly enough, the base structure remained completely intact. Everyone else's electricity ended up being fine. The plumbing later worked, and after they inspected the gas line, they found that it was perfectly fine, too. Of all things, a candy bowl near D's door was fine-no melting or charring or anything-and the Native American dolls-supposedly blessed by a shaman-and the area around them in the center of her living room, which was against the wall of her bedroom, were almost completely unharmed. There turned out to be absolutely nothing wrong with our apartment at all. No one was harmed; D didn't even have a scratch on her.
We were really lucky.
Really, really lucky.
My roommates and I all called out from work that day. They slept because I was actually the only one to go to bed before four in the morning the night before, and I dealt with the various inspectors and maintenance people running around who had to check our apartment. I will probably end up taking more insurance photos for our landlords tomorrow now that the apartment has been inspected and relatively cleared of debris. The damage thus far is estimated to be around $80,000.