I remember a place filled with smoke, locked in the small room, arms outstretched, touching hot surfaces, trying to find the door, and then pulling on it with strength fueled by fear, terror. Screams of the other tenants. But the fire had begun on the bottom floor, and the flames were rising upward, like tentacles of some ancient beast, and there seemed to be no escape, nowhere we might run. The brownstone was on fire, the walls melting, charred. My husband broke the window, which led to the fire escape landing…our two cats, zipped securely into a suitcase…we precariously made our way out onto the fire escape landing on a cold and windy New York night. The flames were already entering our apartment. The voices of the firemen, and their necessary equipment, knowledge, training and strength, saved us. And they also saved the brownstone.
And now Laguna. Fire season has begun. I attended an emergency preparedness meeting to learn what must be done in case of fires. I learned that in 1993, 1,000 homes were lost. I learned that over 90 percent of Laguna Beach lies in the worst possible fire zone. I learned that in our city, there are only four fire engines. These fire trucks require a fire lane of 20 unobstructed feet since each truck is 10 feet wide and 30 feet long. SUVs and cars are approximately six to seven feet wide. Do the math. How might these fire engines have access to homes on our hills when parked cars block any effort of assistance to those in danger. And what about your neighbor, whose contractor is parked on the street, with cement truck not far behind?
The fire department and police department are succeeding in their efforts to educate our residents. We must do more than that. What would you do if the hills are ablaze, and the fire trucks cannot get to you? What will you do if running or getting in your car to escape this fire is not an option?
I never want to breathe the smoke or feel the heat of flames, feeling unable to escape to a safe place. What can we as residents do? Contact our local fire chief and ask. That’s what I am doing.
Jahn Levitt, Laguna Beach