June 15, 2007

June Fire - Elsie Montgomery

Even this far north, the sky is normally dark at 2:30 in the morning. A bit foggy on my way to the washroom, I do notice light at the bedroom window, brighter than normal from the streetlight across the way. Much brighter. On my way back, I look.

Northeast, on a street higher than our home, flames leap skyward, higher than any house. My heart lurches. I call out and wake my husband. I stare at it and move so he can stare. I’m dazed and begin pacing, looking for the phone, dialing 911, finding out someone already called, pacing, looking, finding the binoculars, trying to know which house? Which family? I can’t watch. I can’t not watch.

My husband prays aloud. I join him. I can’t think. Heaviness in the chest, knots in my innards. Someone’s home, maybe their life, out of control. We can see a roof, some joists. Then they are gone. Not a sound. No fire trucks. The flames are a giant torch lighting the sky.

Finally, sirens. During the next three decades of minutes they come, one, then twos. In moments, three fountains arc into the flames. But no change, at least none for another decade.

Finally, steam. A good thing, yet the flames still shoot high.

Then a new blaze to the right. Another house? No, please, no.

More steam. The licking leaping slows, then disappears, at least beneath silhouette of black roof lines that block our full view. Yet it is close enough to fuel in me that familiar panic that fire feeds.

Panic has an acid taste. It smells like cold ashes, dead yet alive, and feels coarse and sandpaper rough in my pacing. The sound is a faint wailing from the back of my heart, plowing through, pulled by wild animals, pushed by screeching demons. It rises, up from my inner parts, screams through my esophagus, but is unable to pass through the narrowing tunnel of my throat. There it rolls into a ball and lumps, blocking my air ways, strangling rational thought, beating on me as if this fire is somehow my fault, and if I cannot be convinced, the fear and the fire, in its rage, determines to destroy something of me anyway.

But it is far enough away; our house is safe. We pray again. I lay down. Faith and sleep eventually decided for me that this fire was not my doing nor will be my undoing. The flames are conquered. The firemen are there. God is everywhere. Panic can only hiss and steam.

Morning brings sunshine, a few showers. We walked 5 minutes went to see the shell, actually just the basement walls are left and some rubble. The heat seared the face off the house next door. The home across the back had vinyl siding, as in past tense.

The house above the shell had been enormous, more like a hotel, three stories on a hill, under construction for the past five years, an annoyance to those who observed it every day. As we watched the firemen still there, and the smouldering lumps, another neighbor laughed and showed us pictures he took in the night.

“Best thing that could have happened. I think we will throw a block party.”

Eyebrows raised, we went home, glad no one was home and lost in that shell, and no one was home next door.

I walked farther. The house with the rippled vinyl had a car in the driveway. I wonder now, if not before, do they believe in answered prayer?


  1. Wow, great descriptions of the fear and the panic. Good work! :)

  2. Hi Elsie,
    I was just strolling though, not planning on stopping, but your story grabbed me by the collar and pulled me in. I especially love the power of your last line! Awesome thought.


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