On Friday I was casually relaxing away the end of the night, when I smelled smoke. At first I figured something in the oven was burning, so I went to the kitchen. Nothing there, but I still smelled smoke, so I opened the front door. The smell of something burning was much stronger, and I realized that the source was outside. Being that I wasn’t dressed to go out, I put on a trench coat, and, looking like a streaker, I went out to the sidewalk and looked in the direction that the smoke was coming from. Off in the distance I saw smoke billowing into the air, and I knew that some house or building was on fire.
Well, like almost anyone, the prospect of a burning building excited me, and I knew I had to investigate. I got dressed, and made my way out into the night air. The fire was to the west, and as I made my way towards it, I greeted some passerbys that were also curious as to the situation. Being that they knew nothing of the situation I declared my farewell and made my way closer to the burning building. I found myself in a parking lot across from the building, where there had formed a gathering of spectators.
The burning building was an apartment complex. Three stories high, with about twenty five units. The fire was on the upper right hand floor, and this was where the firefighters were focusing their attention. Of course, by the time I got there, no flames were visible, and I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. I was hoping for the exciting display of flame. I made my way closer. As close as possible, in hopes of seeing something more exciting than smoke. There was nothing to see. Yet, I stayed. I stayed there for maybe half an hour. I wasn’t the only one to stay, maybe a dozen of us stood there, hoping to see the building collapse or explode, or otherwise see something more interesting occur.
Being that I was as close to the building as I could get, some of the tenants of the burning building were nearby, and I overheard a conversation that some of them held. They suspected that their apartment unit would be fine, as the fire was localized to two apartments. I also learned that the tenants of the apartment that had first caught fire had left town for the weekend. They’d already been contacted, and were on their way back to town. Tragic, I thought, to leave town, and receive a phone call that everything you owned had burned up.
I eventually lost interest, and somewhat felt out of place, as I didn’t know anyone that lived in the burning apartment, so I made my way back home. Though, admittedly I couldn’t help but ponder why most people, including me, have such a fascination with the tragic. Perhaps we’re looking for some excitement, something more real than what we see on television or in movies. Some chance of an actual tragedy. The smoking building certainly looked less exciting than the action packed explosions seen in films, and yet watching it for half an hour wasn’t at all boring. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because reality is more exciting than fiction.
I read about the fire in the paper the next day. They didn’t know anything that I hadn’t learned from witnessing it.
Back in 2005, I saw a much more exciting fire. It was another apartment complex, but on that occasion I saw flames, and I have to admit I got a certain thrill out of it. I watched that one until the flames were no longer visible, and even then I stayed for several minutes longer. Just the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles are exciting, especially with the backdrop of the night sky. It’s no wonder why we watch these things.