At about 2:45 am I became aware of an annoying noise. It sounded like running water, or maybe, bacon frying. I tried to ignore it, thinking it was probably some dummy with fire crackers. Then I noticed my husband was not in bed beside me, I could hear him opening the bathroom door. Suddenly I heard him say, a little panic rising in his voice, “Oh SHIT! B’s on FIRE!”
“B” is one of the houses next door to mine, located on a flag lot, three houses sharing the same street number, designated “A, B & C”.
“B” stands right directly across the alleyway from our house. My husband had also been awakened by the weird noise. Our bedroom is located on the other side of our house from “B”, but our bathroom window opens onto the alley, and he could see a very strange orange glow all around the door. Suddenly he had realized, that’s not just the porch light across the way, something was amiss.
When we got to our kitchen window the flames were coming out of the top of the garage like a giant cigarette lighter. It looked like a scene from one of the Ghostbuster movies, like some entity was trying to move from one time zone to another. I’ve seen houses afire, but wow, that sucker was COOKIN’!
Seeing no vehicles, hearing no sirens, I picked up my cell phone and dialed “911” like a robot. Of course, just as the dispatcher answered, a fire truck slid silently into the alley behind the house, so I had to say, “Thanks, but I see an engine, I think we’re okay.” The operator was surprised, but polite. The same thing happened to me when another neighbor’s house was on fire about 20 years ago, I guess I’m better safe than sorry. At 2:50 am you can’t be sure.
My husband kept assuring me, he didn’t think the residents were home, he’d seen the car drive away earlier in the day. I don’t like the people that live in that house – they been awful neighbors for years – suddenly I felt guilty for not liking them. I wouldn’t have wished anything horrible happened to them, maybe a zit on prom day, but not get burned alive in your bed.
The flames, whipped by the wind, were forming a torch that bent across another neighbor’s tiny yard, toward my huge cedar trees. My husband kept telling me not to worry, but he was watching too.
Within five minutes there were at least four trucks on scene – one behind the house, at least two in front, and at least one more out on the main street. Talk about boots on the ground – at first we could not see the people, just their flashlights. It looked like a small army.
The fire was outrageous, suddenly moving from the garage to the main part of the house. The front and roof seemed weirdly untouched, as they focused their efforts on the back of the house. Several men went up on the house to vent the fire, and then wow, the flames poked up and seemed to get worse – I have no idea their strategy, but if I were their moms, I would have told them to get their asses off that roof. I wanted to yell out the window, “You kids get down from there RIGHT NOW!”
They really attacked it with the fire hoses at that point, water spraying high into the air. Within 20 minutes from the time I’d got into the kitchen, the house looked under control somewhat, we could not see any more flames.
At this point the crew slowed down – they weren’t running anymore, anyway. They seemed to be going about the business of wrapping up the mess. We watched, fascinated, standing in the kitchen window, our apartment lit up like daytime by all the flashing lights. The investigators showed up in their pick-up truck. At no point did any ambulance show up, so I was relieved to know my neighbors had lived to annoy me further in future.
At about 3:30, we were surprised to see flames start shooting up from the roof of the house again. This time it was the main part of the house that looked like a giant cigarette lighter. We wondered if this was routine, they put it out again pretty quick. We watched as the flashlights bobbed around the scene. Finally getting stiff from standing about 3:45, we went back to bed.
I expected to awaken later to the sound of back up bells as they left the alley next door, but was surprised to wake up at 6am to find all but one truck had quietly vanished. The investigator and one hook and ladder are still on scene. Both their engines have been running since about 3 am. Of course, with the fumes from the fire, I won’t be opening those front windows any time soon, no matter how nice it gets outside.
It was interesting watching Chico Fire at work. This is the third house fire I’ve witnessed from my home. The first fire, which started at about dinnertime one weekday, was responded to by Butte County volunteers, who had it out before there was any real structural damage to the house. We were amazed as we watched the volunteers pull up in their vehicles, jump into their gear right on the street, and run to that house.
The second fire was behind my house, blocked from my view by the large trees along the fence. The resident had been burning yard waste in her back yard one afternoon, and a spark had got to the roof or something. I knew she burned so I didn’t think anything of the smoke until I could smell it – there’s a distinct difference between burning leaf smell and burning house smell. By the time I got in to the house and called 911, the city fire engines were already showing up, but the house was a total loss, burnt to the ground.
Today “B” still stands, but you can see it’s a total loss. I never saw anything like that in real life, only on tv. The flames were just shooting out of the roof, it was horrific. I don’t know if there was anything the fire department could do but make sure it didn’t spread to any of the surrounding homes. Right now they are still out there, investigating. I’ll be interested to find out what was the cause – nobody was home. Was it the old heater they’ve been having trouble with all Winter? Who knows.
I’ll tell you what, I’ve never been so glad to live in an R-1 neighborhood where houses are located within a proper distance of each other.
EPILOGUE: Chico Fire was on scene until about 6am. Most of the big trucks left, the chief and a couple of inspectors hanging around into the morning. Then inspectors and other personnel came back to the scene and scoured over it until 5 pm yesterday.
There were no human casualties, but a little dog was lost. That is tragedy enough for me. I know these people are grieving, this was a terrible thing to happen to anybody.