On Saturday night, we had our first grilling session of the season—hot, smokey bliss. Later in the night, we saw a flash out of the side of our eyes and found another sort of flame ruling the night.
In the foreground you see the Charles Joly lilac rising above the lattice privacy fence that shields us from the alley; on the right is the gutter angling off the garage. In the background are the flames consuming the 2 flat behind and one up from us.
I have a visceral, personal reaction to housefires. Ever since 1990, when my new apartment in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., was decimated on Christmas Day while I was at work, I have been painfully aware of every siren and truck that flashes by. So I went out into the alley and gawked at this, along with neighbors and passers-by. I should go on and say that it doesn’t appear that anyone was in the structure, that maybe it was abandoned and this an insurance job—but even that rationale doesn’t contain my internal reaction.
The most horrible and haunting thing is that even after the firefighters had poured on enough water to quench the hate and hacked the hell out of the roof of the back section of the house, they continued breaking out every window in the place. That produced a ringing, stinging, hideous cacophony of destruction that I still replay in my mind. As I absorbed it, I kept calculating: OK, my house is brick; maybe a smaller likelihood of being felled by flame? Upstairs windows are that hideous vinyl; it wouldn’t matter if they destroyed those. They’re not going to crash out my restorations, are they? How could they? Wouldn’t they see that wavey glass and stop!?!?!