Fire truck, plus charred wreckage pulled from the fire.

En Español

Artist Brian Schmierer was at his computer in the downstairs unit of the duplex at 2914 21st Street when he heard someone pounding on the door and “people yelling that the building was on fire.”

He opened the door to see a crowd watching the flames coming out of the apartment directly above his own. “I got a hose and climbed up onto the roof to try to put it out,” Schmierer said. “That didn’t work.”

By that time — around 1: 20 p.m. — the fire department had arrived, and there were still flames coming out of the window.

(Great photos of the fire by Nick Fisher on missionmission)

There were no tenants in the upper unit, where the fire started.

“It was a good fire,” said Lieutenant Anita Paratley. Meaning: It was a big fire, and it burned hot. Once the firefighters arrived, they raised a ladder to the source of the fire (the front bedroom) and crawled onto the roof to cut a hole and release the heat that had built up inside. After that the fire went out fairly quickly.

A large pile of wet and charred wood, blackened mattress and singed Russian literature lay in front of the house, all from the room where the fire had started. The firefighters dragged the bed out of the building both to aid in the arson investigation and prevent any chance of re-ignition.

Next to the bed, soot-covered firefighters wrapped up hoses, changed out of flame-retardant pants and prepared to leave. The building looked singed but reparable.

Schmierer continued to race back and forth, adjusting and emptying an assortment of buckets and saucepans set up to catch the steady drizzles of water seeping through the plaster ceiling.

He paused. “Sorry I’m not being more polite. I just really, really wish that it wasn’t raining in my apartment.”

Arson investigators on the scene said the cause of the fire was unknown and would require further study. Ofir Uziel, a neighbor, said that the fire had started in the bedroom of a tenant who was not in the building at the time.

To the best of current knowledge, the first news service to post information about the fire was “Periodical: Power Outages,” a collaborative news summary written on chalkboards mounted on a series of garage doors around the corner from the fire itself. “Power Outages” began publishing this morning. More on that soon.

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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