Previous: Snow, Tow Trucks, and Particle Board Furniture
Return to: Main
Next: Another small step

January 19, 2005

Fire bus

Ten-thirty pm: I was putting my laptop away and successfully completing the most difficult portion of my mission for the day: get a great full night sleep. I’ve got some assignments due and I have been suffering from a bit of the flu or a winter cold. Sleep is so important.

Eleven-thirty pm: My roommate Aaron wakes me up by announcing himself and then walking into my room and turning on the lights. Before I could figure out what he was doing waking me up he is telling me: “Put some clothes on, grab your laptop. The neighboring apartment building is on fire.”

This instantly got me into action. The neighboring apartment building is not really a neighbor at all. Really, it is the same building as ours. The structures are the same, the basements are connected. The only reason they are a ‘separate’ apartment is that they have a separate address and entrance. Once I got to my senses, I could definitely smell smoke which accelerated my pace even more. I grabbed all my ‘portable’ goods: laptop and digital camera (I will devote an entire post one day to the greatness of laptops). Now, fire or no fire, this was Montreal. The daytime temperatures yesterday were getting down towards minus 36. That is ridiculously cold. So after organizing my stuff, I had to go through the whole long-underwear, pants, wool socks, polar fleece, toque, scarf, mittens and jacket routine.

When I got outside, there was definitely some excitement happening in the area. The fire trucks were arriving (at the peak, there were at least a dozen ladder trucks, pumper trucks and assorted support vehicles) and a couple of firemen were pulling a burning mattress and table out of the basement next-door. A policeman quickly herded the large group of us to a safe gawking distance. At this point, it did not seem too serious. There were flames, but they seemed small and it looked like the firemen had it all under control.

Things changed so quickly. To us on the outside it appeared as though the fire had gone out. There was little or no smoke and absolutely no visible flames. In an instant, the first floor apartment was lit up and the whole front room was in flames. This provoked a serious reaction from the firemen. The two closest ladder trucks quickly put their ladders up to the roof. Firemen then began smashing the neighboring windows in all the apartments adjacent to the fire. At this point we began to get worried. The bottom floor of the building has four apartments. Ours is the farthest left, the fire was in the farthest right.

The non-firefighting support crew decided that it was time to get the spectators somewhere safer and warmer. They drove in two nice red modified school buses. These buses were definitely deluxe fire viewing and gossiping accommodations. Each bus had a toilet, a fully equipped kitchen and a very nice and powerful heater. Over the next hour or so all the apartment dwellers and their most valuable possessions (it’s a student building so primarily laptops but there were also some cats) sat worriedly and nervously listened to reports from people coming in from outside.

The fire apparently had entered the flooring of the apartment building and was causing the firemen some problems. We sat on the bus and watched the firemen literally gut the entire right half of our building. They tore the roof off, threw stuff out of windows, and apparently had to tear up most of the (wood) flooring. This seemed to get everything under control. We were told by the firemen that we could probably have access to our half of the building to get possessions in two hours.

The excitement had faded quite a bit by this point. Two of my roommates and I decided to go and find a 24 hour diner leaving the fourth roommate in the bus to call us when we were allowed back in. The closest diner was closed and definitely not wanting to walk any further than necessary we made for the closest pub. After hearing our sob story, the waitress supplied us with beer on the house and we spent the next hour or so listening to some guy play horrible Pearl Jam and Aerosmith songs.

Sometime around three am we ventured back to the apartment building. Everyone was still on the buses but the firemen were definitely in mop-up mode. They had spot lights setup inside and we could see the firemen tearing pieces of insulation off of the apartment walls. On the bus we were informed by our roommate that we would be allowed back into our apartment one at a time for possessions and then the city would put us up in a hotel for two nights. Thankfully, that was not true. Half-an hour later the firemen announced that they had restored power to our half of the building and that we could re-enter our apartment. The other half of the people should stay on the bus and await further instructions.

When we got back to our apartment our good luck was seriously emphasized. Our floor mates and immediate neighbors (our apartments are actually joined by a shared door), a group of four girls, arrived back to a destroyed living room and one destroyed bedroom. The firemen had smashed the front windows, hacked up the wood floor with an axe and done a serious number to the wall and the furniture (understandable). The girls were put up for the night by the city.

Our apartment on the other hand, was completely untouched. There was a slight smoke odor but absolutely nothing else.

Four-thirty Am: I put my laptop away and crawled into my un-charred, dry and very warm bed. Now I wonder if I can get an extension on that assignment due tomorrow…

On a completely seperate topic. I will update this site more often. I have a bunch of stuff to write about - but I am lazy and I am also working on a slight update to the layout of the site. Stay tuned...

Posted by Alistair Howard at January 19, 2005 12:00 PM


You've got some serious luck there. That was a very suspenseful post by the way..


Posted by: Shawn at January 19, 2005 02:45 AM

Wow, that's crazy go nuts. Makes me want to run out and get insurance.

Posted by: Dan at January 19, 2005 06:35 AM

Hey Al,
Crazy story; thankfully seems like the best possible outcome. Best of luck in grad studies.

Posted by: Dave H. at January 19, 2005 08:06 AM

Nice luck Alistair, Next time send it my way, maybe a few fire alarms during my exams to get them cancelled.

Posted by: Malcolm at January 20, 2005 11:02 AM

Glad to hear you're okay. Any photos of flames leaping out windows?

Posted by: Sandra at January 21, 2005 11:01 AM

Wow and you thought you wouldn't have any interesting stories to regularly post!!
I think Kel's friend Devo lived in one of the apartments that was mauled by the flames. Him and his roomate are okay, execpt I think all their furniture etc. was seriously damaged. I believe he did the same as you...grabbed the laptop.
Devo is doing his masters at McGill as well, he graded from Uvic two years ago in Computer Engineering I think. He started his masters program in August.

Posted by: Sarah at January 22, 2005 09:45 AM