I trust that the New Year is treating you well.
So, I arrived back in exciting Liberia last Sunday after a full month’s absence and a thoroughly enjoyable vacation. As if to remind me what I’ve missed in this place, on only my second day back here, yesterday morning at around 6 AM, a fire broke out behind my apt bldg and razed two bedrooms occupied by my landlord’s butler and his family. See photos.
I was woken up by shouts of people – not unusual in this pretty rowdy and noisy city, especially when they catch a "rogue" (thief), which again is not uncommon…. thus annoyed at my being rudely woken up I tried to ignore the shouts and go back to sleep, but I became suspicious coz the cries were not dying out (as what usually happens when the mob drags the unfortunate thief to the beach to be beaten up and possibly lynched), and neither did they sound like those of a lynch mob intent on extracting vigilante justice.
So I dragged my still sleepy a*s out of bed and peeked out the window, and lo and behold, the crowd was gazing at our apt bldg, there was a UN van and a UN police car outside with hazard lights flashing. So I said to myself, uh oh, I tried to remember what has been drilled into our heads during security briefings, got out my passport, my wallet, my watch, and a flashlight, and (after checking that I was decently clothed and appropriately shod), made my way to street level, after making sure that I was not running into the fire.
According to some accounts, the first fire truck on the scene was empty of water (let’s not talk about whose fire truck it was, to avoid embarrassing any entity). The second truck held water and was equipped with fire hoses approx twice the diameter of your common garden hose. The fire was under control when the water petered out, and firefighters departed although there were still plumes of smoke, smoldering embers, and the wall still hot to the touch.
Much credit is given to timely intervention of neighborhood womenfolk (and menfolk), who arrived in droves and with basins/ buckets which they forthwith filled with sand from the ongoing site construction and doused the fire with it. Also, to the quick thinking of our compound manager, who flung the gates open (to allow the good samaritans access), while closing the gate to the bldg interior (to prevent looters). It seems, that at some stages during the war, this compound sheltered large numbers of neighborhood folks from the warring factions, and they apparently have not forgotten that. Call it payback.
Looking at the photos of the damage and the scene of the blaze, I now realize that the fire could have quickly spread to the adjacent compound which houses UN staff and an Indian restaurant (the latter which I would not have missed the cooking of, but that is another story). It could have also spread to our main bldg via my landlord’s 2nd floor apt (which glass windows cracked). My next-door neighbor was literally smoked out of his apt. As my apt is on the 3rd floor, on the "far" side from the fire, my smoke alarms did not go off.
Thank heavens, the occupant of the rooms, the butler, his wife, and their six-m/o baby, were safe, if somewhat (pun unintended) ashen-faced and shaken.
[Needless to say, I had escape plans and routes worked out in advance, and emergency devices such as two stout ropes just for such contiengency. Happily, in this case, I did not have to throw down mattresses onto the shed roof below, or exit a la Spiderman 4. That said, I am now browsing eBay for used portable/ folding ladders.]