I’ve always been guilty of thinking “that won’t happen to me” when some unbelievable event occurs. For some reason, it is difficult for me to understand that anything can happen to anyone, even me. Friday, around 8AM, my apartment burned down. You can see a new article here: http://www.wtae.com/news/local/allegheny/Firefighters-battle-5-alarm-fire-in-Oakland/-/10927008/19517292/-/kqekv4z/-/index.html.
I had left for work a little before 7:30 that morning and there were no signs of any danger. So, you can imagine my shock when I got a call a little less than an hour later from my roommates saying they were safe but the building was burning down. I didn’t believe it at first; my initial thought was that it was an early April Fool’s joke. I left work then, but don’t remember much of my drive home, other than hoping it wasn’t real. As I rounded the hill back into Oakland, I began to see the smoke billowing up in the air and the mass of fire trucks positioned along my street. I parked and ran to the street where I saw the building engulfed in smoke and flames. I was extremely happy to find my roommates there too, alive and watching the scene unfold. We talked to cops, reporters, and firemen and learned that all the tenants had made it out safe, which was a great relief. We spent the rest of the day watching firemen battle the fire that had begun to spread to 2 other buildings. The whole thing just seemed ridiculous, like how could this possibly be happening? By the end, the top 2 floors of the building were completely destroyed, the windows had blown out, the roof had collapsed, and the basement (where our apartment was) was filled with 3-4 feet of water.
It’s been a couple days now, and I still can’t believe it. Luckily for me, I had packed up to come home for Easter and put those bags in my car, so I had some very valuable belongings with me – my laptop, camera gear, and redundant backup hard drive mainly. Some people lost everything.
We were allowed in to the apartment yesterday, and that was the first time it all seemed real. Everything was destroyed. Cabinets were off the wall, desks and couches were overturned, the ceiling was caved in, and there was a layer charcoal and soot on the floors and walls. It was all so black and unrecognizable. I had to dig through about 6 inches of charcoal to find my flashlight to find my way around the place. I saw where the fire started – right across the hallway from my room.
The support through this all has been incredible. From family, to friends, to coworkers, to the entire Pitt community, everyone has been helping us and giving us clothes, food, etc. Pitt even offered to find and pay for campus housing for the victims, even though we lived off the campus in an apartment. Also, my parents’ insurance is going to reimburse us for the damages.
I’m so happy that everyone made it out safely. That was the main thing. I also feel proud to live in a community like this one that comes together to help those in need. For now, I am living in an apartment with one of my roommates, while the other 2 have another 2 person place. I feel so lucky to be here, even though I lost a lot. Seeing the damage to the apartment and where the fire started was scary. What if I had been there? Would I have made it out? My other roommates barely did and they were closer to the stairs and smoke alarm. I could have easily missed the alarm – one of my roommates said it wasn’t very loud. I could have been trapped in my room. I could still be in that room.
I don’t know exactly how this will change me, but I want to be more appreciative of life. I want to slow down – to think more, to see more. I want to live my life, not just be here for it. I want to work at something I truly enjoy, not just save it for the weekends. I want to see places only a few have been lucky enough to see. And I want to be more honest and less sarcastic.
I don’t know exactly how I’ll turn out, but I don’t want to waste this (almost) second chance at life. On a sort of related note, I have been accepted to a Wildlife and Adventure Photography Internship this summer in South Africa. So I’m beginning my steps in the right direction. Hopefully it’s just that – a beginning.