My girlfriend Melissa and I were making dinner at home in our two bedroom apartment in Brighton. We were expecting Melissa’s sister Krista and our nine year old niece Dylann to be home for dinner. Krista and Dylann had been staying with us in the kids’ room while they transitioned into a new place. We’ve been preparing the kids’ room in anticipation of new custody arrangements for our 3 kids and of course we, just in the last couple of months, have rounded up everything we need for our new baby boy. In the mean time, the kids’ room has been vacant, so Krista and Dylann moved in temporarily. For dinner we decided to grill some burgers and corn on the cob, and deep fry some home-made French fries. It was my job of course to man the grill, so we put the oil on the stove and I headed down to get the charcoals lit.
The charcoals are burning and about five minutes go by before I start hearing the screams. At first it’s hard to hear and I think maybe it’s just kids playing or one of the neighbors fighting. But then it sounds like my name and then I realize it IS my name when one of the neighbors comes running around the corner screaming at me “CHRIS YOU HAVE AN EMERGENCY!”
So I immediately get to my feet and start running around the building to the stairs. My thoughts are nowhere near related to fire though, I think we are having the baby. But as I ascend the stairs I realize people are out in the parking lot, some of them are crying and one of them says there is a fire and it’s coming from my apartment. My heart sinks to my stomach. Apparently, the oil had overflowed onto the stove and went up in flames. The smoke alarm went off and Melissa rushed to the kitchen but was met by an impassible curtain of smoke. Not only is she pregnant but Melissa suffers from severe asthma and a heart condition. She is standing at the top of the stairs when I reach the third floor; she is panicking and trying to catch her breath. My neighbor hands me a fire extinguisher and three of us go in to put out what we think is a small stove top fire.
We are wrong, so wrong.
A heavy blanket tacked to the wall, hangs from floor to ceiling and divides the living room from the kitchen. Fire extinguisher in hand, I pull the blanket back. Thick, toxic, black smoke rushes out and I inhale it deep, I take one step in, my eyes burn and I start choking and gagging and have to retreat to the living room. But I can’t give up so easily. I turn to my neighbor he asks me what the problem is “Why can’t we go in?”
I rip the blanket down and a giant cloud of black smoke rolls into the living room forcing us to take several steps back. The deliberation is short. There is no going in. I yell for someone to call the fire department. Melissa is pleading with me “What about Spike?!”
Spike is the family pet, a one year old bearded dragon. His aquarium is in the kitchen. She cries, her 9 year old son Christopher will be devastated. The fire department arrives on scene within several minutes. The fire has been burning for a solid ten minutes before fire fighters are able to get in but they get in and manage to keep the fire from spreading to other apartments. The chief tells us the fire was mostly contained to the kitchen but there is significant damage to the rest of the apartment. We ask about our pet lizard and he tells us that the kitchen window as well as Spike’s aquarium both burst from the extreme heat but they cannot however find a body.
Melissa is struggling to breathe and beginning to have contractions, all her medication was on the kitchen table. EMT’s assess her and she begins to calm down. Fire fighters try to reassure us with some good news, keeping our bedroom door closed has shielded most of the baby stuff from being completely destroyed. But it is false hope. We return to the scene of the fire the following day with Chief Sheldon. Nothing is left unscathed by the toxic black smoke. Everything in the living room, all the kid stuff, our clothes, everything we worked so hard to attain, the life we built... it's gone. Even the stuff in our room which we think has been shielded from the smoke is ruined. And it begins to set in, we have lost everything. The only thing we manage to salvage from the fire? SPIKE. I find him hiding under four inches of ash and debris in the kitchen barely alive. The jury is still out on whether or not he will make it but he is being held overnight in an oxygen tank at the Alameda East Veterinary Clinic. This is a blessing and we are grateful especially for the kids who would be devastated by his loss but other than that… we are starting from square one. The baby will be here any day and we now have nothing for him. Krista and Dylann have lost all of their clothing as well. And we are all homeless now. My dad is putting us up for now. We are left to wonder what God’s plan is in all this but I’m sure it can’t all be bad.
If there is anyway at all you can help us begin to rebuild from this tragedy we would be so forever grateful to you. Thank you all so kindly and God bless.
- Mark Mollica
- Allen Perry
- Red Cross
- Ed Rummel
- Gary Rogers
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