I don't know about anyone else, but one of my biggest fears is waking up in a smoke-filled room, knowing that I only have moments to get to safety before my home burns down around me. On June 10, 2016 this fear almost came true. Again.
Before I tell this story, let me backtrack for a moment to almost four years ago on July 21, 2012. I was deep asleep when a fire alarm woke me up in the middle of the night. I wasn’t sure if it was a true emergency, so I got dressed quickly and went outside to see what was going on. I saw people running in every direction and quickly realized that something bad was happening. Walking in the direction of the people who had been running, I rounded a corner and saw flames shooting from a third story apartment in the building next to mine. It was a terrifying sight and I was momentarily in shock to see something like this happening in front of me.
I quickly came back to my senses and ran back to my apartment so I could get my cats to safety. I had no idea if the flames would reach my building, but I knew for my own peace of mind I would need to get them somewhere safe. After loading them quickly into their cat carriers I went outside and called my mom to tell her about the fire. If you don’t know, my mom lives in the same apartment complex I do, right across the parking lot. I knew she would be able to see the fire from her apartment so I tried to calmly tell her what was going on so I didn’t panic her. I carried my cats over to her apartment and we watched from her balcony as the firemen tried to put the flames out. It took them at least an hour to get the fire under control. By the time the fire was out you could see how much damage had been done to the building.
By the end of the night I was able to return to my apartment where everything was still safe and sound. However, it was a very close call. The hammock on my balcony was full of water from the fire hoses, so it was an eerie reminder of how close I had come to losing my home. I thanked God for making sure everyone had gotten out of the building safely and for protecting my home from tragedy. I also prayed that I would never have to go through something so traumatic again. I got my wish until the early morning of June 10, 2016 when I had to re-live this same nightmare all over again.
At 2 in the morning on June 10 I was wide awake, unable to sleep. I had decided to watch a YouTube video on my phone and as I was watching it I realized how hungry I was. I went into my kitchen to get a snack. As I finished eating a leftover eggroll I heard the fire alarm go off right outside my front door. I ran to my bedroom and got dressed quickly, already feeling a sense of déjà vu from the last time a fire alarm had gone off in the middle of the night. When I stepped out into the hallway I could see smoke billowing in the third floor corridor above me. I knew I had to act fast, so I ran back inside my apartment and grabbed the cat carriers, which I’ve kept in a closet ever since the first fire, knowing that I always wanted to have them handy in case of another emergency. I loaded up my cats and as I was about to open my front door someone started pounding on it. I opened it up to see a police officer, who asked me if anyone was else in the apartment. I told him I was the only one and rushed downstairs to safety. At a safe distance from the building I still couldn’t see which apartment was on fire, just that it was one of the units on the floor above mine.
I set down the cats and made one of the worst calls of my life. When my mom answered I said, “There’s a fire in my building!” I’ll never forget the terror I felt in this moment or the shock I heard in my mom’s voice. I told her I was headed over to her apartment with my cats. She was just coming down her stairs when I got to her building and I could tell she was as shocked and scared as I was. I dropped the cats off in her living room and then we rushed back towards my building to see what was happening. Like a recurring nightmare, I could see flames shooting from an apartment on the third floor. Thankfully, it wasn’t the apartment above mine, it was the one across the hall. I still had no idea how quickly the fire would spread, but I was temporarily relieved to see that my apartment was still safe for the moment. My relief disappeared as we heard three explosions in quick succession. We would later find out that this was from propane tanks that had been stored on the balcony.
We walked around the back of my building to where the fire trucks were and where my neighbors were all huddled up in the parking lot. Even though we couldn’t see what was happening, I still wanted to be close to other people so we would get an update as soon as someone knew what was going on. After a few minutes we decided that it might be better to watch from my mom’s balcony because we would have a better view of what was happening. As we came around the front of the building we could see that the flames were already gone. I was amazed at how quickly they had gotten the fire out. I was also relieved to see the lights on in my apartment windows and to know that my apartment was still standing. Obviously, I didn’t know if there was any water or smoke damage, but it was still comforting to see those lights and to know that my apartment still existed.
We waited on my mom’s balcony for a while, watching the fire trucks and hoping that the worst was over. Eventually, I decided that I needed to get back down there so I could hear any updates on what happened or how much damage had been caused. We walked back through the parking lot and saw a fire fighter talking to a group of people. He was telling them that anyone who lived in the other hallway of our building would be able to get back into their apartments in a short while. However, anyone who lived in my hallway would not be able to get back inside until the arson investigation was completed, which apparently is standard protocol. They told us that we could wait as a group in the new clubhouse that was recently built. We all headed over and went inside, getting a “sneak peak” at the new building that we had been watching being built for the last six months. Unfortunately, the water wasn’t turned on and the bathrooms didn’t work, in addition to there not being any furniture yet, so we all huddled up together and started sharing our stories of what we had seen happen during the fire.
We found out that a dog had been on the balcony of the apartment on fire, but thankfully people on the ground were able to convince it to jump to safety. We also heard that a lady had been carried out of that apartment on a stretcher before the fire got out of control. It felt like hours before we got an update, but eventually a fire fighter came over and told us that the investigation had just started and it was going to be some time before we would find out how much damage had been done to each unit. The time passed slowly as we all waited and wondered if we would be able to return to our homes. We eventually got another update that in addition to the apartment where the fire happened the two apartments below that unit were also severely damaged and those people would not be able to get back into their homes any time soon. Those families were told that the Red Cross would be arriving soon to help them figure out where to stay for the night. I was relieved to hear that my apartment hadn’t suffered any major damage, but also shocked that it had been so close. The apartments that were damaged were right across the hall from me, so it had been a very close call indeed.
By this time it was 4am and we had heard that it would still be a while before I could get back into my apartment. We went to my mom’s place and turned on the 4:30 news to see a breaking story about the fire. I eventually had a feeling that I might be able to get back into my apartment, so we walked back over and sure enough they told us we could go in. The hallway was a disaster, full of water and ash from the fire upstairs. There was still a fire hose snaking up the steps and we had to walk carefully to not slip or trip. I opened my door, which I had left unlocked in my rush to get out. I was relieved to see my apartment fully intact and looking completely normal. I felt completely overwhelmed and started to cry with relief to know that everything was okay.
We decided to go get my cats and bring them back to my apartment now that everything was safe. We got them unloaded and as soon as I stopped worrying about them I noticed that my chest really hurt every time I took a breath and that I was winded from walking up the stairs. I knew I had inhaled some of the smoke in the hallway, so we decided that it would be best for me to go to the emergency room to get checked out. Thankfully the waiting room was empty and I was in and out in under an hour. The doctor was very kind and explained that my symptoms were completely normal for smoke inhalation. He explained that I would likely feel discomfort for the next few days as my body would be trying to get rid of all the toxins I had inhaled from the fire. He gave me a dose of steroids to help and sent me home with instructions to come back if I got any worse.
By that time my mom was late for work, so she dropped me off at my apartment and I went inside to try and lie down and rest. It had been a long and stressful six hours since the fire started and I was in desperate need of some sleep. I was just starting to relax when I heard a knock on my door. I was told that there were still some flames upstairs and that I needed to leave my apartment again. I went outside and saw a bunch of fire fighters loitering around talking, so I had an idea that it wasn’t a super serious situation. After a few minutes another fire fighter told me that they were experiencing some hot spots in the unit that had been on fire, but that I would be safe to go back into my apartment since it was downstairs and across the hall. I decided that since I was already outside I would run to Starbucks and get some much-needed caffeine. When I got back to the apartment complex I asked one of the fire fighters if I could do a food or coffee run for them since they had been there for so long. He said they were fine but seemed to appreciate that I had offered. As I was heading up to my apartment I ran into the property manager, who told me that someone would be coming by my apartment to check for any damage. In the meanwhile, I decided to try and get some work done since I clearly couldn’t relax enough to get any sleep. Sadly, my internet wasn’t working so I decided that was my sign to just take the day off and recuperate after such a traumatic night.
It wasn’t long before someone from the restoration company came to my door. He said he needed to check for any water damage to my apartment. He used an infrared device that showed water in my ceiling. He came and set up a dehumidifier as well as two industrial fans and told me that I’d need to leave them running non-stop to try and dry out the moisture. He also explained that they would need to cut holes in my drywall so they could pull out any wet insulation from inside my walls. Before they could do that they needed to get some test results back to confirm that there wasn’t any asbestos in the insulation. He told me to sit tight and that they’d be back later with some news on the test results.
Unfortunately, the equipment was so loud that I knew I wouldn’t hear him knock if I wasn’t in the living room, so I tried to get some stuff done while I waited for him to come back. I looked at the clock and realized that it hadn’t even been 12 hours since the fire alarm had first gone off. It amazed me to realize how much had happened and how 12 hours could feel like days had gone by when so much had been going on and when time had dragged by. Even though I was tired and bored, I still reminded myself that only a few short hours before I had been worried that I had lost my entire home, so I decided to be grateful to be sitting on my couch, alive and safe despite the close call.
I wrote the first part of this blog post on Friday evening in an attempt to get the events out of my head and onto paper. It was therapeutic to write it all out.
It's only been a few days since the fire and it still doesn't feel real at times. I am honestly having a hard time coping with the stress and trauma that it caused, so I'm trying to take it one day at a time.
Ultimately, I am so thankful to be alive and safe. We found out on Friday morning that the lady who lived in that apartment passed away from her injuries. It's so sad and I am sending thoughts and prayers to her family as well as the other two families who lost their homes. It makes me realize how blessed I am.
I wanted to end by saying a big thank you to everyone who sent well wishes my way. I truly appreciate all of the love and support! I especially want to thank my mom for being there with me during this terrible event. I couldn't have gotten through it without her!
My name is Beth and I live in Denver. I am a single lady in my 30's and wanted to start sharing my awesome and amazing life through a blog.