Gone in seconds…by Jim Chase

Posted by on May 14th, 2010 and filed under Viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Note to Readers: This week I had every intention of continuing the discussion of driving and using a cell phone or texting. But as they always say (or at least they should) nothing gets your attention like a house on fire. I will return to the topic of driving under the influence
of wireless phones next week.

What is it about a plume of smoke rising above your community that can make you forget all about whatever you were just about to do? I’m sure that first responders would tell you nothing else has a way of drawing curiosity seekers like a fire.
My wife and I are no exception. Two weeks ago we were coming home from one of our early evening walks in La Cañada, driving west on the 210 Freeway. When we came out from the long tunnel under Foothill Boulevard, the sky was suddenly filled with black, roiling smoke from an angry fire that looked to be somewhere in Montrose. The volume of smoke was so great, we had to see where and what was going up in smoke.
As we drove towards the column of smoke, it soon became apparent that the fire was burning from the Sparr Heights neighborhood – a uniquely attractive and homey community that has undergone major renewal as young couples buy “first homes” and pour their energies, dreams and savings accounts into remodeling efforts.
The closer we got, the more we realized the smoke was coming from the very block of homes where our longtime friends live.
Suddenly curiosity became fear, adrenaline-fueled excitement became dread. Although we weren’t able to get closer than a half block away, and we didn’t want to park and add to the congestion of people already milling about, we could tell that the burning house was either that of our friends’, or – as it turned out to be – one of their immediate neighbors.
As relieved as we were that our friends were spared this tragedy, I realize that it still happened to someone else’s friends. Somebody else’s relatives. Another family is now dealing with the aftermath and (hopefully) insurance agents that follows these sorts of calamities.
I suppose most neighborhoods eventually have a house fire. Overloaded wiring shorts out. A curtain blows across an untended candle. A kitchen grease fire becomes a conflagration. I don’t know if my own neighborhood is typical or jinxed, but I’ve seen no less than three fires in my immediate block – two of them involving homes that share a property line with mine – much too close for comfort.
Something I remember from all three fires (besides an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and wondering why they don’t make garden hoses five times larger) is the profound eeriness of the sound.
Before the rumble of the diesel fire engines and the wail of sirens fill the air, you hear only a strangely hushed popping and crackling as house windows implode and oxygen rushes in to feed the flames.
The other sound you never forget is of neighbors running from doorway to doorway, window to window – calling through the smoke to see if anyone is still inside. There is a muffled yet frantic quality to that yelling that’s as weird as it is frightening.
I remember something else that happened during the near chaos of all three fires I’ve seen up close. Namely, I kept thinking about a particular passage of scripture from the sixth chapter of the book of Matthew, verses 18 – 20 that advises: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” I would only add to that, …and where fire does not consume in minutes what a family has collected for a lifetime.
I’ll see you ‘round town.

Jim Chase is a lifelong CV resident and freelance writer. He can be reached at

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