7/19 -- After the Fire (Don't Turn Around...)
rubble left behind from the fire

(Did that title get "Der Kommissar" playing in your head nonstop? Ha! I win!)

By the time we got home from work on Tuesday night, I was exhausted. Painfully exhausted. My limbs felt like they were filled with cement. If you'd asked me my name, I'd have had to ponder that one for a while and get back to you. But I wanted to get some daytime shots of the rubble left behind by the big fire. I grabbed the trusty digital camera, followed the oily smoky stench still hanging in the air, and headed down the block.

I was wrong in the last entry: the fire did not, in fact, take out the entire development. It just looked that way on Monday night from where I was standing -- all I could see were flames and great columns of smoke that blocked my view of the remaining houses.

Right down the street from our apartment building is Herndon Woods, a housing development. If I was freaked out on Monday night (and as you probably know by now, I was), these people must have been scared beyond shitless. I walked down that side of the street and saw scorched trees and singed fences and melted plastic things. The fire had definitely been edging their way before it was finally extinguished.

a straggling camera crewSome of the Herndon Woods residents were out on the sidewalk while I was taking pictures. "Are you from the newspaper?" a little girl called out to me. I'd forgotten to take off my photo-ID badge from The Big Company. And news of the fire actually convinced a few local TV networks to cover something besides the Nike shoebox found in Rock Creek Park that probably had nothing whatsoever to do with Chandra Levy's disappearance but still deserved some air time just in case. (I am not, as they say, making that up.) I guess it was an easy mistake.

Though it's petty of me, I have to say that some of these Herndon Woods residents have me utterly beaten in the Drama Queen department. Now I don't blame them for being on edge, considering that the firemen had apparently had quite a job keeping the flames away from their development. That must have been terrifying.

But a few of the Herndon Woods people out on Tuesday obviously decided that burned townhouse development be damned, this incident was their disaster, their very own gift-wrapped-from-God war story, and the rest of us were just guests. And not terribly welcome guests at that; we'd barged into their homes uninvited, swilled down all their best wine, knocked the ashtray over and made cigarette burns on the good sofa.

"Why don't they have security guards out here?" bitched one woman. "Why are they just letting all these people just walk around here?"

Um ... because it's a public sidewalk and people are always walking around there? Because you're living in a middle-class neighborhood and not a fucking gated community? And because it's not every day that we see really huge fires around here and it stands to reason that people will find the site of the fire interesting? Nobody was looting. Nobody was trespassing. Nobody stepped over the police tape. Nobody was touching evidence. We were just looking.

a burned tree and fenceThen a little girl who'd been wandering around with a friend and making a point of hovering near me and my camera (I don't think she believed me when I denied being a reporter) delivered a highly theatrical gem: "Sure, people come here and look at all the fire stuff and think it's neat. Why? Because THEY don't have to LIVE HERE!"

On my bad days, this would have struck me as bratty. That night, I found it damn near falling-off-the-sidewalk funny. So young. So cynical. So somebody who'd obviously heard Mom saying that line to people all day long. Really, you'd think they were living on a bombed-out street in Beirut instead of in a nice little neighborhood that was probably going to need a new fence, a couple of replanted trees, and a paint job on a house or two. She killed me.

"Must have been scary to be over here last night," I said to her. She instantly dropped the world-weary pretense, and her grey eyes got bigger and wider as she told me all about her important role in the events of the night before: "Everyone came over to OUR house and stood in OUR DRIVEWAY, because WE were the farthest away from the fire!"

Most of the time, kids get on my nerves. But sometimes I'll run into one who makes me think "That's exactly what I would have said and how I would have acted at her age," and I'll decide they aren't so bad.

Nobody knows how this fire started yet. According to an article I read in the Washington Post on Wednesday, there's been a slew of strange fires set in construction sites in this area in the last year. Most of them were determined to be arson. They were set at night in single-family home developments in similar stages of construction -- the buildings were up, but no appliances or windows had been added yet. On the surface, there seems to be ample reason to believe this fire was set by the same person.

It only gives me a mild case of the cold creepies to think that while I was puttering around on Monday night getting my laundry together and doing cozy little domestic things, an arsonist was probably right outside doing big illegal destructive things.

The heat from the fire melted the letters off this street sign.

Street sign by Salvador Dali. This was the strangest sight of the day. The letters were actually hanging off the sign in strands. There's a picture of the same sign in the Washington Post article about the fire, so I wasn't the only one struck by it. (But my picture's cooler.)

Indulging my inner hit slut

(clix like you can prevent townhouse fires.)

The next entry.

Previously, in Insomniaville ...

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