At the time I left Falkland Street–this was around 8pm–they had the heavy machinery out. A huge backhoe was stirring up the rubble at the Piggy house. They were pumping water straight into the ruins. I could make out a few flames off the roof of the Diversity building.
So much water. It’s freezing cold out tonight. A row of icicles hung from the power lines like shark’s teeth.
The power’s back on along Creighton and the top of Falkland. The Marquee Club is out. I still don’t know if I’ll wind up having to work tonight.
At one o’clock this afternoon I was biking down Gottingen on my way to meet Allison Outhit for lunch. First I saw that Gottingen was blocked off at Cunard Street; then I saw all the smoke. Then I saw the pumper spraying water directly in Tashia’s bedroom window and I freaked out.
Looked through the crowd but couldn’t see anyone I knew and couldn’t find out what was going on. I biked down to Barrington Street and met Allison on the sidewalk in front of C’est Si Bon. “I heard my block was on fire,” she said. We could see smoke over the top of the Trade & Convention Center as it blew towards downtown.
I filled her in and told her that the fire was a little ways away from her place, which is a block up Falkland.
“Tashia works at Biscuit,” I said. So we walked up to Biscuit in case she happened to be there.
She wasn’t, but Sarah the clerk said that Tashia had just phoned.
“So she’s all right then?” I said.
“Well, I wouldn’t say she’s completely ‘all right,'” said Sarah. “But she got out and she and her kitties are safe. They’re hanging out at Cooke Sales.”
Allison and I walked up to Gottingen. We stopped at Portland Street, right beside the Marquee. We had a pretty clear view of the fire. It looked bad–two or three buildings in a row, old wooden North End buildings. They were really giving it a good hosing down. It seemed like there were twice as many fire trucks as when I’d passed by the first time. It was obvious that the fire was not under control.
Cops everywhere, yellow tape, news media, camera crews like vultures.
I watched a burnt piece of black about the size of a large maple leaf floating at rooftop height through the smoke. I said to myself, “That is going to fly right down to me and I will catch it.” It drifted in a lazy arc down Gottingen Street and then swooped down towards me on the sidewalk.
I reached out to catch it and at the last second it dodged around my hand. Allison caught it. It was a piece of burnt paper or something. You could almost make out the writing on it.
Allison held it out to me. As soon as it touched my glove it disintegrated into a million pieces of ash.
I had been trying to catch a glimpse through the window of Cooke Sales. Finally I saw Tashia. She looked like she was crying. I waved to her and she waved me over.
I ducked under the police tape and ran over to the storefront. A cop put his hand on my chest to stop me but I said “I need to talk to her.” Right across the street from the fire. I ran into the store and Tashia stood up and we hugged and hugged.
Allison came in a few minutes later and we started to make arrangements. “I don’t know what to think about,” said Tashia. She was in her pyjamas–a slip and a long coat; a pair of rubber boots. We would take her and her kitties, get set up at Allison’s place.
Through the window of Cooke Sales, I saw Al Tuck standing on Portland Street, watching. I didn’t get to talk to him. He looked shaken.
Dan from the Marquee was apparently asleep in his room for a full hour after the firefighters arrived. Someone kicked in his window. “I was like, ‘Why are they smashing my window?'” he said. “And then people started yelling, ‘Get the hell out!'”
We set up a home base at Allison’s, a block up Falkland Street. Tashia got set up in my old room.
Power out everywhere. We made tea on a Coleman stove. Then wandered outside, talking to friends, checking in with people.
OK, I just got a message that the Marquee is definitely not opening tonight, so I want to get back down there.
So many people I know on that block–artists, musicians. Businesses: Diversity, Glamourama, The Fall. Couldn’t believe it when the fire spread onto Falkland. Hannah, Brenna and Larissa’s place, where Paul and Helen used to live, with their pot-bellied pig, the old Piggy house. Totally gone.
It was weird thing to see on a sunny day. I’ve seen fires before but it was always at night.
I could not believe the sheer volume of water they sprayed onto the block today and tonight. “Over a million gallons,” they said on TV. Whatever that means. It looked like about nineteen bathtubs full a second. It seemed like the neighbourhood should be floating away, and the fire’s still burning.
Nine hours later the neighbourhood is still burning.
It may be premature to say this but we’re trying see glimpses of good coming out of this. People are really coming together.
As far as I know, no casualties. I think everybody’s pets got out OK. That’s amazing.
Next door, Selwyn Sharples was having an impromptu therapy session in his house with four or five people. He lost everything in a house fire two years ago.
Even as the fire was consuming people’s valued possessions, Selwyn was counselling. He was articulate, insightful, inspirational.
I listened to him telling people things that they really needed to hear–about just how all right everything is going to be, what an opportunity they have for starting fresh… I want to write down everything he said and remember it. Passing around shots of Jagermeister.
“Go Team Burn Victim,” Brenna joked. You have to laugh or you’ll cry. Go Team North End.