A fire broke out in a boarded-up hotel next to a gas station that sits kitty-corner to my motel recently. The deserted, ’70s-era structure, built under old building codes and with no functioning sprinklers, turned into an inferno in minutes and the entire roof collapsed.
It took over 100 firefighters to make their way through the busy, backed up street to get to the hotel and attempt to get a hold of the fire from the building’s exterior due to the roof, and the next day they were still pouring water inside the smoldering structure from a tall ladder, as they couldn’t enter the building due to safety issues. I took this photo 15 minutes after I smelled smoke and the firefighters had already done a great job of tackling the bulk of the inferno within a short period of time.
It was mid-afternoon and I was up as I had to get my X-ray reports. I was about to shower and smelled bacon—and I don’t eat pork. My motel has kitchenettes, which is why I fork over extra dough to stay here due to my food intolerances and allergies and the cost of eating out—and I was pissed off that some neighbor was frying up swine and stinking up my room. Within one minute, however, it smelled like my home state of Washington, which is like an earthy perfume with a base note of a wood burning fireplace.
My brain screamed, “Fire!” I looked out the window, but it was daylight and I get a whiteout effect. I had noticed it was a hair overcast earlier, as clouds equal more pain, but when I went to the window, the sky was black and the smoke was blowing toward me, but the corner of the building that juts out was blocking my view. I thought a plane had crashed, but my brain said, “Burning wood.” I flew out of my room and went to the hall around the corner that has a window that faces the same direction and presumed the fire was from that boarded-up hotel, even though I can’t see far and it was so black out from the smoke.
Then I panicked. I knew there was a gas station right next to the hotel and figured the whole ‘hood was going to blowup. I went back down the hall to try to find someone, but I can’t see people well, just figures and color. I noticed a guy with a big cart of sorts, and know there are a couple of employees who clean up the halls and rooms after someone moves out. I made an educated guess and yelled, “¡Oye! ¿Qué pasó? ¡Hay un gran fuego afuera!”
The unknown employee came down the hall and told me in Spanish that the gran fuego afuera (big fire outside) was from the old hotel and then shut the window, so he didn’t seem too worried. I told him how I was afraid of fires and didn’t know what had happened. The whole motel smelled like a bonfire by then, including my room, but I threw on my sunglasses and grabbed my camera which I never use and went downstairs to get photos. This is when it no longer looked like a 787 Dreamliner—currently grounded—had crashed while trying to land at the nearby airport, but it still looked and smelled awful.
The last time I lived here, there was a small fire on the top floor caused by one of the resident meth addicts lighting up a garbage can. Their other hobbies include chronic pacing and dragging furniture across the floor 24/7, as I have lived below 2 meth addicts now—and one was in a rental condo. As a result of the burning garbage can, the alarms went off in the middle of the night throughout the building and in my room—same one as now for good luck—and the fire doors in the hallways slammed shut and the elevators shutdown. I was still awake, but it was scary as hell.
I was worried the sprinklers would go off, so I shoved all I could under the table and covered the rest with garbage bags and grabbed my purse that holds a lot of what I need, my medications I can’t live without, my laptop, and my beloved cat, who I stuffed screaming into her carrier, and got into the stairwell to get to the nearest side exit and sat on the curb with the other residents who stay at the front of the motel. I should add that my vision was near 20/20 less than 2 year ago. The firefighters were everywhere by then and were going in and out that same door by where I was sitting and trying to reassure us. I didn’t know what was really going on and no one was talking to me.
I used to have a buddy in here on the top floor at the back of the motel—a cool guy who went to UC Irvine and had a life spiraling downward like mine. We used to lay for hours in the lounge chairs by the pool in the middle of the 100° F summer nights talking life and politics and discussing things like the ridiculousness of Reaganomics and the craziness of the Nixon-Agnew Administration, although neither of us were alive during the latter (well, I almost was). He texted me while I sat on that curb to see if I was alright. I texted him that I was and he said he was too, and that he and his neighbors were all outside at the back of the motel. Nearly 2 years later, I still have those texts in my cell.
My experience was a far cry from the 4-alarm fire in the boarded-up hotel, which is presumed to be caused by the squatters who had been living in there and roam this neighborhood. This is why a ghetto is a ghetto and they are not created on their own. This building owner, like others, was allowed to let the hotel sit boarded-up for nearly a decade and the city turned a blind eye, as they don’t care what it looks in my neighborhood. However, now that it is unsafe per the code, the city has ordered the owner to demolish it, which would have saved them and the tax payers a lot of money if it had been done nearly a decade ago and never would have caught on fire.
I equate my life and chronic health problems to a fire a lot. A fire just starts suddenly—often when you least expect it—and destroys everything in its path. It provokes fear and anxiety. It’s unpredictable and volatile and is affected by many things, like weather conditions and people—who either help put it out or stand by and do nothing. It changes the way a building once looked and how it functions and people get displaced. You lose things in a fire you will never get back, which is why you instantly grab what is most important It is a split second decision, so you better get it right. You have to know what to hold on to and what to leave behind, and have the sense to know what matters for your survival. By all means, hope that you have at least one person who cares that you made it through alive, even if in time they disappear into the smoke.
When the fire continues to smolder like it did in this building and has in my body for 12 years, keep fighting because with every flame you extinguish, another shows up right behind it. A fire can become an eternal flame and that is where things get tricky.