On Friday morning just after 9am, whilst I was enjoying my morning coffee and a catch up with one of my oldest friends, I got disturbed by the sound of fog horns and men banging on my door shouting ‘EVACUATE, EVACUATE, FIRE, FIRE!’. As I opened my front door to the beautiful, cosy apartment me and my partner had moved into just 6 months prior, I felt that this wasn’t a drill.
My partner was in the office for the first time in a long time so unusually I was home alone.
As I came back inside and looked around at my possessions deciding what to grab. I also recall vaguely noticing the faint smell of fire too but that didn’t really register properly at the time. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing I desperately needed. My love and family are nowhere near here, money is accessible online, I am fortunate my business, being service based and not product based is online, I had clothes on my back, what else, really, is there?
Everything’ else is replaceable.
Even though I still didn’t know if this was a drill or real, I made my way downstairs quickly and calmly, just like they tell you to.
As I exited our apartment, I look to the left and see the smoke billowing out.
It was real.
There were some people trapped on balconies, the smoke was so intense.
There were flames coming out of multiple windows, with debris falling down.
The brigade was already there setting up to reach them. Our building is made of 5 blocks and the apartment that caught alight is the one next to ours.
At one point I got shepherded into the assembly area and the collective energy was understandably fearful.
Some people were clearly in their pj’s.
Our building has the same cladding that Grenfell had, and even though it has finally been commissioned for removal over the summer months, we all know it is 3 years too late.
Just beyond the tape that kept us in was a large group of firemen who had just come out of the building. I saw at least 50, but the BBC tells me there was at least 125 who came to our rescue.
Just beyond them I saw a fireman ripping off his soot covered uniform and another pouring a water bottle over him – I hear him say ‘I couldn’t see anything it was intense in there. A medic, or perhaps it was one of the fire wardens, was helping a woman who was covered in soot and visibly distraught, to get away.
Within an hour the worst was over, but I know it was a long and very scary day for many and for those who are still waiting to find out if their home has undergone fire damage, it will continue to be an uncertain time.
At the earliest chance, I left the locality and went to a friend’s house who let me relax. At that time, we had no idea of when or if we would be allowed back in. Strange as this may sound, I was surprised by the sense of relief I felt as I sat down in my friend’s garden. Although I was never in direct danger, I still felt a bit shaken, but then again, the only thing I had consumed that day was a water in the morning and a coffee during the call with my friend. So, I took a spot in the sunshine, picked up the bottle of Corona my friend handed me to ‘calm the nerves’ (yes it was still before midday), and I called my parents.
Later that evening as I was fortunate enough to make my way back into my home as the fire brigade had given our block the all clear. I had the pleasure of meeting a fireman who was part of the crew that would be watching the building to make sure nothing further happened in the night. Perhaps I’ll bring him into a Tuesday talk one day. You can check him out if you like, his insta is: @richw.15.
This weekend there have been protests about the removal of the Grenfell cladding in our building and many other buildings across the city. This fire could have been a hell of a lot worse and the aftermath of the event has been intense for all residents involved.
As I write this from my sofa it doesn’t escape me how lucky I am. Normally, I avoid the word luck because I find that people tend to use the word to guise hard work, commitment, courage or some other accolade for truly achieving something, but this does not apply here. There is no achievement in the fortune I have been blessed to keep this home and life for another day.
Here is what has come up for me since:
– Our fire crew truly are heroes.
– Always treat a fire evacuation like its real. You just never know.
– It’s often the aftermath of an event and what it leaves you with, that is more significant than the event itself.
– If you live in an apartment with the same cladding that Grenfell had, please contact your building owner and raise the urgency of its removal immediately.
– The kindness of strangers is truly what makes this world a beautiful place.
– Everything, except the people I love are replaceable.
– I am so grateful for this home and life that I am lucky to keep for another day.
– I am so grateful I had the freedom to take the day off without having to answer to anyone.
– I am so grateful for my friends.
– I am glad I was home alone, in a strange way, I am glad only I had to experience that.
– Take Sunday off and truly enjoy it, life is way too short to be worried about Monday.
– You never truly own anything, it can all be taken away in a moment.
– Corona tastes great at any time of day.