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Pounding on the door invades my dreams. Screaming and pounding, pounding and screaming. When I finally wake up I look at the clock. It's a little past 3:00 in the morning. Becky is heading toward the door. Maddisen is yelling having been startled awake. Most of the people in our building know that Becky is a nurse. It happens about once every two years. A knock in the middle of the night. Someone needs first aide or wants to know if they should go to the ER. But this was different. There was more screaming but I heard that one word that sprang me to my feet. Fire.

As the adrenaline flushed my system I pulled on pants and headed toward Maddisen's room. On the way I discerned that the fire was on the other side of the fire wall from us but it was huge. I told Maddisen to get dressed and meet by the door. I put on a sweat shirt and shoes, put on my back pack, Maddisen screamed out if she could take her turtle. I looked out the window. Yes, but quickly. We left. The heat outside our door was intense. The light blinding. We made our way to the safety of the parking lot. Hugs exchanged with our neighbors that knocked on our door. Prayers said for our neighbors on the way to the hospital. We watched at least five local fire departments fight the fire. I used the bathroom of a stranger down the street.

Frantic calls to Maddisen's cell phone as neighbors and friends heard and saw the flames and sirens and news reports. I did not grab my cell phone. I tried to sleep in the car but what was so easy at 2:55 in the morning was impossible at 5:00 am. Another friend/neighbor tracked Becky down through work. Work called Becky and we called the friend. We had breakfast at the friend's house. I fell into a fitful sleep on their recliner.

We were able to return to our apartment at 10:30am and were happily surprised that the smoke smell is not very bad. It stinks in the hallway but not too bad in our apartment. Every once in while we get a whiff of some bad smells...as if there's a cloud of it some where that makes the rounds. We made sure we were completely closed in here and turned off our outside ventilation since it smells worse outside.

It feels so good to be alive.

Here's a link to the pics that I took. http://s266.photobucket.com/albums/ii242/brakels/2008%20fire/

Here's two of the pics:
Our apartment is just to the right of the charred remains. Thank God for fire walls and local ordinances!

Aftermath: I wrote the above yesterday for posting at discontinuum.org. Since then I have learned that the guy who left in the abulance with no resp or pulse was revived and is in serious condition. Another victim has 3rd degree burns on 30% of his body and is in critical but stable condition. The fire has been ruled an accident but no cause has been released yet. Our apartment smelled like a campground but 24 hours with ionizing fans going and it is back to normal. The common hallway smells like a cigar club but that is not ours to fix. We didn't lose anything but when we left the apartment we thought it was for the last time. If you rent, get renters insurance. And for everyone, change your batteries in your smoke detectors when you change your clocks!

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Comment by mark ellis on November 1, 2008 at 1:52am
Congratulations on life and health and property. It sounds like a good time for shiny, new, smoke-free housing. I had a law office burn down years ago. Although I have a poor sense of smell, the odor of smoke on items lasts for years (in my case, paper files are things we purposely retain and darn near everything else burned to a crisp).

Fire is a scary, powerful force. Human beings and our belongings (including frisbees) do not react well to intense heat. All the more reason to appreciate the things we have, especially healthy intact families. Give your family a hug for me.
Comment by Jamie 'gr8rocshot' Ruane on October 31, 2008 at 11:02pm
Looks like a 2 story building to me...per photos...I guess you mean each unit is 1 story. If the fire did that much damage to the second floor and originating from the first..I say something wasn't kosher with the fire barrier between floors. To many drafting gaps or a failure of what should have been at least a 2 hour rated barrier between floors. Your renting anyway...those aren't individually owned. Other then the contents, no residents have a real interest in the property. Forget about my input about the process of restoration.....and carry renters insurance if you rent. Good luck, glad your family is ok, hope the others recover. I won't bother your blog anymore. I'll be opting out of the email thing with this blog so if you got a question about smoke damage/air quality issues...send me a message. peace out.
Comment by Jon Brakel on October 31, 2008 at 5:32pm
I'm guessing at 50 feet but the fire was one unit away from ours. I just heard that the neighbors that pounded on our door until we woke up are moving to a complex across the street because of the smell in their unit. They are immediately adjacent to the fire unit with just the fire wall between them.

These are one story apartments and the fire started on the first floor.

We are looking at our options for moving out for no other reason than the buying market is good right now for houses in the area and the apartment management company is letting any and all of us in units around the fire out of our lease if we don't want to live here any more.
Comment by Jamie 'gr8rocshot' Ruane on October 31, 2008 at 5:19pm
Yeah, The number one sign of determining smoke odor, is of course smell. I would give some of the surfaces in your place the white glove test too...cause you know that if you smell a rose long enough you can't smell it anymore.

50 ft. sounds like three to four units away?
Those are two story townhouse units?
How many square feet is the unit that burned?
It looks like it's possible that one will need to be demo'd down to the slab. I can't tell the extent of the damage to the first floor framing. It looks like the fire may have started on the second floor?
Are the ceilings vaulted on the second floor?

What's the fire wall constructed off?

That looks like...at least a 6 month job. Once Cause and Effect has been determined and it's been released to a contractor...the intial clean up should take about a week or so to get the bulk of it hauled away. The engineering and permit stage could take longer then the cleanup.

Hopefully the building's main coverage adjuster has been there and the units owners has been as well. The contents are definitely a total loss. They should be determining what the buildings policy covers and what the unit owner's covers. The building should carry the through to at least the drywall.....sometimes texture and paint fall on the unit owners deal (can be considered a wallcovering). The main fixtures like shower and tub may be covered on the buildings, however cabinets may not. All floor and wallcoverings are usually on the unit owners...that can include light fixtures and fans too. I'm telling you this and I don't even know if there Condos or Apts.?
Oh, wash your car a lot thru the cleanup process, BTW...if you park it in vinicity of the airborne debris as they demo and clean up.
Comment by mr ed on October 31, 2008 at 4:55pm
hey now,glad to hear you all are ok.Prayers out out to those who were burned.Peace
Comment by Jon Brakel on October 31, 2008 at 12:33pm
Thanks for the well wishes all!

Jamie, our unit is about 50 feet to the right of the charred mess. We didn't have any humidity or moisture in our unit. The wind was going the other way. I have a really good sense of smell (I can smell moldy bread in the wrapper in the pantry in another room) and can not detect even a small amount of smoke in our unit. I have a brand new Barcalounger that I did some breathing into it to see if there was any residue trapped in it and couldn't smell anything other than the smell of fabric and foam. I would think if we have any concern about smoke damage then I'd be able to smell something, right?

I am a bit concerned about demolition and rebuild. I imagine demolition is going to smell a lot like the fire. Hopefully they keep everything contained pretty well. Hopefully the rebuild isn't too loud since Becky mostly works nights.

Most of our fire codes are grandfathered so old buildings do not need to comply with new fire codes. The building was built in the early '80s and for the time was pretty good. I was really surprised the fire wall lasted since it did take quite a while for the fire fighters to get the fire under control. When we left the building I was fully expecting our unit to go up in flames and for us to lose all of our stuff.
Comment by Jamie 'gr8rocshot' Ruane on October 31, 2008 at 9:59am
I hope the residents will recover...keep us posted on their progress.

That was a nasty fire. I spent 11 years repairing structures from this kind of damage. That looks like a real mess. You guys will probably be dealing with that for the next 4 to 6 months. How close was your unit to this one....I did look at your other pictures.

If you have any questions regarding anything to do with this...I'll be happy to answer your questions. One thing I will tell you now is the lovely by-product of soot/ash and humidity/moisture...is basiclly Sulfuric Acid. Make sure you don't have any smoke damage on your contents...even light smoke will cause damage, anything metal or electronic. Plastics are soft and will absorb that crap. Tell your neighbors this. Any child's toys with any amount of smoke...is done.

I would imagine your building codes aren't as stringent as ours...Basiclly everything down here has to comform to Miami Dade code. That framing in front of the header looks wonky. That may have to be rebuilt different. Pickets look to wide on the balconey as well. Hopefully your association if those are Condos has good Law and Ordinance coverage. Down here building depts can make you bring all of those on that building up to code...even if they weren't damaged. Without L & O that can be one of those nasty assesments. Good luck.

Keep running the ionization...well past the Demo and rough clean up stage
Comment by Terry "the Pirate" Calhoun on October 31, 2008 at 7:26am
Scary, Jon, and it's wonderful that you guys are okay.
Comment by Jimmy on October 30, 2008 at 11:30pm
Yes It is a good day to be alive. No matter what happens, just think how bad it could be and you know its a good day to be alive. Wish you the best. Glad you are ok.
Comment by Bryce @ Treebangers Disc Golf on October 30, 2008 at 8:24pm
Im glad you and your family got out OK... I hope your neighbors get well soon.

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