Late last week a flat in the block next to ours caught fire. A nice couple live in it, along with their toddler, a little girl. Dad was at work. Mum and daughter got out safely and waited with a neighbour across the street while a small crowd gathered. The fire service was on its way.
Acrid smoke funnelled through the slightly ajar windows. There must have been flames, but we didn’t see them. Partly because the lounge window is beyond our viewing range, unless we stand outside the block. Partly because, although we live out in the ‘sticks’, the fire engine only took around ten or fifteen minutes to arrive.
It was draining just watching the crew go through their well drilled tasks on such a humid day, clad in what appeared to be impossible-to-wear kit. The fire was under control in a very short time, and after a couple of hours the tenants of neighbouring flats were allowed back indoors. Everyone but mum and toddler, that is. They left in a family member’s car. I can’t imagine the emotions. Relieved to have escaped unharmed. Devastated at the loss of the irreplaceable. Anxious about where they would now live, and what the future will hold. Numb at the thought of being part of a statistic that we all pray to avoid. My grandad instilled into me from an early age, fire is a wonderful servant, but a bad master.
After Grenfell we became very twitchy about living above ground level. Yes, we’re only on the first floor, not level 20+ but, nevertheless, our main means of escape is a single wooden staircase. Yes that’s right ‘wooden staircase’. We’ve considered buying a roll-out escape ladder, but our side windows are too narrow to accommodate one. Our landlord’s regional officer assures me that our only door in and out of the flat should keep a fire at bay for 30 minutes. Plenty of time for the emergency services to reach and rescue us. I’m not entirely unconvinced, but it is what it is and we’ll try not to dwell on it.
Instead, perhaps we’ll try to focus on something calming, that involves being surrounded by water. Lots of water.