Archive for January, 2011

The Towering Inferno

January 18, 2011

So, last night was certainly one of the most dramatic I’ve had whether in the UK or over here. Myself and my table sharer (TS) had taken ourselves to bed at about 10:30pm (no, don’t worry this blog entry is not going there …) and having read for a bit (or played Angry Birds in her instance) were about to turn off the lights for some sleep when there’s a semi-distant ringing set off. After we both ignored this for about 10 seconds the discussion is along the lines of ‘do you think that alarm is coming from our building?’. Again, another pause whilst I consider whether to get up, put clothes back on, and see what the fuss is about.

With just about my jeans and t-shirt on the rather worrying sight of flashing lights outside and below the bedroom window confirms the worst. The alarm is indeed in our building, and judging by the arrival and activity of the fire engines appliances (yes, plural) then this doesn’t seem to be a drill or an alarm being mistakenly set off. Crap. Really crap …

The first thought was what to take with me – I thought about the little NAS box containing all my photos and irreplaceable documents. In the short space of time available I decided not to. Still in my mind this didn’t seem to be a building burning down moment…

Once outside our apartment (we’re on the 7th floor) it’s a case of taking an internal stairway down. We must have been on about the 1st or 2nd floor when a fireman shouts, at the by now group of people, that we should go back up. No indication as to how far back up though. Our apartments? The roof? Who knows! Even the local Canto speakers don’t know what’s going on, so we retrace our steps this time going up. With the distinct smell of smoke in the stairwell… And the sense that all is not so good after all definitely rising. At each floor of the stairwell are windows that look out into a small area that runs next to the lift shaft. Through one of these windows you can now see the smoke coming up, and just to really top things off, some more embers than I’d care to see shoot up also. The air outside this window is warm, and looking down there is just a lot of smoke to see. As of now, going up doesn’t really appeal to me.

With nowhere else to go we’ve reached floor 18 (the building has 23), and TS decides it’s time to call 999. At the time I thought this was a bit odd, the police and fire services were already here after all, but it turns out this is a good decision, as the operators can (after checking with someone presumably) tell you what you should be doing, rather than simply following a single shouted instruction ‘Go Up!’.

Having been going down and up in the stairwell for about 20 minutes or so a fireman finally arrives on the 18th floor in the stairwell and instructs everyone to return to their apartments. He doesn’t mention whether the fire is out or what is going on. The view from the stairwell window is still smokey but no more embers are visible (which is reassuring) and we traipse back down to our apartment thinking we’re not going to sleep very well tonight with the adrenaline definitely pumping (and the alarm still ringing).

About 50 minutes after the alarm first started ringing and it stops, shortly followed by a fireman knocking on the door to give the all-clear – and confirm with TS that she was ok, as she’d called 999. Definitely a dramatic night, and true enough, not easy to get to sleep afterwards either. The lingering smell of smoke in our clothes didn’t exactly help matters either.

The Next Day …

One of the two lifts (the one servicing our floor) is still out of action, and getting out via the staircase reveals the extent of the damage from the fire. There is a small open area, probably about the size of a lift shaft that runs next to the actual lift shaft. A door on the ground floor to this area is open and all you can see is the blackened remains of whatever was there previously. And black walls. And still quite a bit of water around. With it being an enclosed space I can imagine the risk of the fire spreading quickly would have been pretty high – not a very nice thought. Well, using all the knowledge I’ve gleaned from watching CSI, I’d hypothesise (they don’t guess on those shows after all), that some idiot has been smoking a cigarette in the stairwell, we’d later traipse up and down, and tossed his cigarette butt out the window. A bit later and we get to play a bit part in a Hong Kong version of the Towering Inferno*.

Bit of a puzzle as to why our lift is out of action being opposite the side where the fire seemed to be, and the lift that is next to the fire site is still operating. Answers welcome.

* 23 floors isn’t quite a tower, and it probably wasn’t much of an inferno (but is as close as I’d like to be to one)

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