New York City has had a rough 24 hours. A tragic explosion in the lower east side of Manhattan yesterday after noon and an apartment fire on the Upper East Side just hours later was nothing short of terrifying. The fire that took place in the upper east side hit very close to home.
In New York, sirens are as normal as breathing, and due to that I usually do not think much of it. After last night, I will never hear a siren the same way.
I awoke last night to numerous fire engines and someone shouting "Fire!" At first, I was not sure if I was partially dreaming, but the stench of smoke hit my nose and the next thing I knew I was out of bed, drawing back my curtain, and terror instantly rippled through my body.
This is what I saw. After staring in awe, panic set in and I went to wake my roommates. There were so many thought running through my head. My first instinct was to call 911, but firefighters and Red Cross were already at the scene. I saw residents of the building running out into the streets. Then my safety and the safety of our building came to mind. Fear and panic were taking over. I called my father, who had a troubled tone in his voice that only happens when a father receives a phone call from his daughter who is 500 miles away calling at 1 am. I reassured him I was ok, my roommates were okay, but I wanted to let him know the building across the street was on fire. I told him we decided to go outside to find out if we needed to evacuate, to find out any information. Were the gas lines the problem? What should we do? Where could we go if we had to leave? The questions kept piling up. He said he loved me and to be in touch and be safe. It was all I needed to slightly ease my racing heart.
My roommates and I stepped outside to be hit by fresh air which was strangely calming. As we walked closer to the sidewalk, the heat of the fire kissed our skin. Embers were floating to the ground, pieces of the building were crashing down in slow motion. I felt as though I was in a Michael Bay film. But no, this was happening. This was really happening.
A man with a dog took cover under the awing of our building. He was a resident of the building being engulfed by unforgiving flames. Everyone had gotten out safely, and now we were all staring in disbelief as this building, people's homes, burned and crumbled before our eyes.
We watched as firefighters ran in and out of the building with hoses and axes. They broke through windows and attacked the raging fire with water and a headstrong bravery. A cherry picker with two firefighters inside took aim at the top floor of the building to put out the flames. They combatted the fire in what seemed like a hopeless battle, until finally about 2 hours later, the fire was contained and only smoke was left.
My roommates and I had gone back into our apartment before the fire had been contained and continued to watch from my bedroom window. The smoke had trapped itself in our lungs and being outside had become dangerous as embers and pieces of the building fell. Even after the fire was out and everyone was safe, the visions of blazing orange wrath left me uneasy and as exhaustion set in.
Lying in my bed, my thoughts drifted to my neighbors whose home was taken from them. People whose life had been altered by this fire. They were safe, most importantly, but their belongings- their pictures and dishes and all the things they owned in the world- were lost or seeped with smoke, a scent that will linger and be a reminder of this night.
Somehow, eventually, my eyes closed. Upon waking up this morning, for a moment, I was unsure if the hours prior had been a dream, but just a peak out my window at a charred, lifeless building and I knew for certain it was not. The fire was gone, but the pain and fear was left in the rubble and blackened brick.