We arrived to the sound of a power saw cutting through the roof of the burning building (yellow house, left) to make space for fire hoses.

“We should have brought the pizza,” says Gerardo Sosa, standing next to his son, Angel, and looking past the police caution tape to where a crew of firemen are wrestling a firehose toward the front door of his house.

“We should have brought the laptop,” says his cousin, Eric Rodgriguez. Both Sosas are staying with Rodgriguez tonight, because it’s either that or let the Red Cross put them up.

“We should have brought the boxing wraps,” says Gerardo. Angel, a sweet-faced little kid, strikes a tough-guy boxing pose.

Gerardo’s phone rings. “Hello?” he says. “Sorry. There’s a fire, and they’re asking me questions and shit.”

A network of hoses snaked down Florida, making interesting wet noises.

The Sosas first found out about the fire when their upstairs neighbor, Darrin Clayton, pounded on their door with some urgency and told them about it. Clayton first found out about the fire when he wandered into his kitchen around 7 tonight to investigate the source of a faint smoky smell. Standing in the kitchen, he realized that the smell was coming from his roommate’s room. He opened the door to find the room filled with smoke and three-foot flames dancing in the closet. It was interesting. He’d never been in his roommate’s room before. They’d met on Craigslist. They weren’t that close.

“All I saw was the fire,” says Domenic Daniele the third, a very young and excited neighbor across the street. “It was bursting with wild flames.”

“The whole top was orange,” says Matteo Daniele, Domenic’s younger and even more excited brother. “I saw them break the door down.”

Photo courtesy of Carl Pisaturo.

“I think,” says Domenic, “it is because there is a ghost that died in there.”

In fact, all eight residents of 1040 Florida appear to be safe and sound. The two cats haven’t shown up yet, but all the doors were left open, and they’re presumed fine. It’s a beautiful night and the sidewalk is crowded — kids are hoisted on to shoulders to get a better view, the front stoop of every house is filled with people sitting out like spectators at a slow-moving parade.

“I think I smelled incense earlier,” Clayton is saying to an investigator who is taking down notes on a yellow legal pad. “But just really faintly.” The investigator leaves and Dominic is enveloped in a bright white light, like the light that shines on TV characters right before they’re abducted by aliens. The TV news crew has arrived. “Augh!” says Dominic. “Can we do this without the light?”

“It’ll be over soon,” says the news anchor, crisply. She’s wearing a smartly cut suit. Her hair is perfect. Behind her, the cameraman stands, his head hidden by an enormous black video camera. It does not seem like a good idea to deny her anything.

She’s right; it is over quickly. The street continues to carry on like a block party without any music. Multigenerational families stand together companionably and watch the fire — or, at this point, more just watch the firemen do all the things that firemen do after a fire has been put out. Namely: a lot of hose-dragging and paperwork.

In front of the house: much running back and forth.

“Excuse me,” says Clayton, waving toward a group of firemen. “There’s something I forgot to tell the investigator.” A man in a plastic hat and a long firefighter’s coat walks over.

“The power’s been going out a lot,” says Clayton. “For the last two weeks. The breaker’s been switching off and on.”

“That sounds about right,” says the fireman. “It looks like it was electrical.”

“Well hey,” says Clayton. “There we are. I just thought it was bad wiring.” He pauses at that, for a moment. “I guess it was.”

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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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6 Comments

  1. i was at a house on 22nd and Treat during that fire! My friend said, oh this is a main corridor to the hospital so we hear sirens all the time. I said, that is a lot of them at once, must be a fire nearby. Turns out, it was. I’m glad everyone and the cats are ok.

  2. HELLO THIS IS GERARDO,I LIVE IN THE BOTTOM PART OF THE HOUSE WITH MY SON.I JUST WANT TO LET THE READERS KNOW THAT WE ARE ALL OK.WE JUST HAVE 2 WORRY ABOUT THE LIVING SITUATION MOST OF US ARE AT A HOTEL THANKS TO REDCROSS WELL EVERYBODY OUT THERE BE SAFE AND MAKE SURE YOUR SMOKE DETECTORS ARE WORKING…………P.S. THE CATS WERE FOUND IN THE FIRST ROOM UPSTAIRS TOGHTER HIDING UNDER THE BED.

  3. Glad to hear you are OK, Gerardo. My roommate saw the fire on his way home and described the size of it to me, and it sounded pretty scary. Never nice to think that people down the street may be in trouble.

    1. YEAH JOEL I NEVER NEW WE HAD SO MUCH NEIGHBORS…I THOUGHT THE S.F. GIANTS WON THE WORLD SERIES AGAIN THERE WERE SO MUCH PEOPLE THAT FILLED THE SIDEWALKS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE STREETS YEAH IT WAS CRAZY HOW FAST A DISASTER CAN HAPPEN…EVERYBODY TAKE CARE.

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