First Person:

Anthony Cody
Friday May 12, 2006

It finally happened. 

Those of you who have visited my home probably saw the unfinished three-story monstrosity next door. It has been protested by neighbors, lost its permits, and has not been worked on since we moved in here three years ago. 

In the pa st couple of years, it has become a favored resting place for the weary homeless. About two hours ago it went up in flames.  

At about 11:30 Monday night Alexander, Rowan and I were awakened by someone pounding on our door yelling that we had to get out o f the house. We moved quickly and I put on some pants, but only wore a t-shirt, and no shoes. Rowan had on only a pair of boxers and a t-shirt. Zander was the only one of us with shoes. I did grab my camera, though.  

But before I used my camera, I grabbe d the hose, and sprayed the side of our house facing the flames. I even sprayed the flames as they burst through the open window next door, and managed to subdue them a bit in that one spot. But the entire house was involved, all exposed plywood and rafte rs, a giant tinderbox awaiting a match.  

Then a fireman told me to stop because they had the exclusive arrangement for fire-dousing, so I retreated and picked up my camera instead. It still took about five more minutes for the fire fighters to commence t heir watery operations, during which time the fire spread from inside to the whole rooftop, as can be seen in the first picture. A large crowd gathered to watch the spectacle. We stood across the street and gawked along with the rest. 

Eventually they rai sed a ladder to spray water from above, to douse the most stubborn part of the fire. They sprayed using Dawn detergent, generating foam several inches deep in our yard and in the street. This acts to reduce surface tension on the water so that it penetrat es the wood better. One of our neighbors, Claudia, crept into her house and retrieved us some coats to wear to keep us warm. Fortunately it was a warm, windless night. 

It took them another hour to put out all the hotspots, and they are still next door at 1:30 a.m. as I write this, chopping and making sure things won't ignite again. The boys and I are doing our best to let the adrenalin subside, as the noise gradually diminishes, and perhaps we will get a few hours of sleep tonight. 

I am hoping there was not much damage to our home. Fortunately it does not smell too bad, since only wood was burning. There may be a bit of scorching of the paint on the side, but otherwise I think we are OK. 

Most of the neighbors seem happy at this turn of events, because they hated this structure, and had fought hard to block it. I do not know what will happen now. Ironically, the boys and I have been packing and moving our belongings to our new home, eight miles away in Oakland. We will only have about three more nights here. What a send-off!