If you didn’t know, I have a soft spot for seagulls. Ever since a baby gull was rescued and relocated to the rooftop across from our deck, I’ve relished their annual nesting and chick raising. Of course, not everybody feels the way I do about the urban squawkers, but after a mama seagull alerted me to a fire next door, I’ll always defend their noisy antics.
It was Saturday evening and I was just back from Mexico when I heard unusually frantic screeches from our resident gulls. Hawk! (I’d seen one hovering above days ago.) Since we live in an urban forest, a tightly packed village dotted with lots of trees, I thought a hawk was attacking the nest (pictured here).
I ran out to the deck to discover no hawk, but a fire raging in the alley between the buildings. It was then I heard sirens wailing from the street out front. I called my husband who works nearby and he dashed home. Fortunately, he knew local firefighters who followed him up the stairs with a firehose, through our living room, and across our deck to a clear shot at the flames. In the chaos, it seemed like forever before water filled the hose. I ran down to the engine company shouting to turn it on now! (Yes, it was strange yelling at firefighters, but there are times when a girl has to speak up.) Once the slack firehose plumped with water, I had hope. Five hours and plenty of decisive action later, they declared the fire was out. I never thought I’d welcome hulking firemen dragging firehoses through our living room, but I’ve adjusted my standards.
Emergency teams from seven communities fought the blaze. Heroic and compassionate, some stayed all night. Many returned Sunday morning to make sure we were ok.
The out-pouring of generosity on the street was astounding. The owner of the hotel L’Auberge Carmel put us up while we were evacuated– four star accommodations including lovely breakfast in their peaceful, smoke-free courtyard! Nearby restaurants kept everybody fed, neighbors offered anything anyone needed, and the Red Cross was ready with support the following morning. Las Olas’ own Jackie was immediately on the scene with her stabilizing sense of humor (and a get-away bag since they wouldn’t let us back in our apartment).
When all cleared, we discovered our neighbors were smoked out of their apartments, too. We were lucky the fire stopped at our walls. No one was hurt, but as I write this, our friends are still not back in their homes.
I’ve had time to reflect on what we’ve learned from the experience. Here are some takeaways:
• Don’t wait for a disaster to meet your neighbors. We were fortunate we all knew each other.
• Exchange contact information and keep it on your phone. Consider making a group text so you call contact everybody at once.
• Keep your phone charged and available so you can grab it quick. During evacuation, I had to search for my phone and every second counts.
• Cell phone trumped the land line. When I discovered the blaze, I tried to call out on a landline, but the fire had already burned through the wires. Problem was, I couldn’t tell the line was dead, so I wasted even more valuable seconds.
• Prioritize what’s most important to you– today. After saving people and pets, what would you grab if you had five minutes, ten minutes, etc.— art, family photos, passport, laptop? Think about it now, because when firefighters tell you to get out, that’s it.
• Keep important papers, passports, and photos in a metal container with a handle, preferably close to your exit.
• Pre-pack a get-away bag ready with a change of clothing and overnight necessities. Suggestion: Pack nice clothes because looking and feeling presentable after something like this helps lift your spirits. And you never know when you get an offer to stay in a nice hotel or do a TV interview. Sounds weird, but that’s what happened.
• Stay positive. The fire was inches from our kitchen and would have engulfed our place in minutes, but I wouldn’t despair. Whether or not that helped, I’m glad I stayed optimistic.
• Don’t underestimate the generosity and goodness of people around you. Accept and appreciate it.
• Fire— and mother seagulls— are forces of nature that deserve our respect.
After everyone was safe, I witnessed a daisy chain of passionate art lovers, firewomen and men, neighbors, even passersby’s, rescuing paintings from the smokey gallery next door. It was surreal and inspiring. These are just things, but art is an important part of our community.
In the end, we were very lucky. Besides the smokey smell and some wear and tear, our place was fine. We were back in a couple days, but my heart goes out to my neighbors who may be out of their homes for months. I wish them a hasty return to a normal life.
And to the seagull mama who alerted me to the blaze, I can’t thank her enough. If I hadn’t heard her cries to save her nest, we couldn’t have protected our own.
If you too have a soft spot for seagulls, follow us on our Surf Las Olas Facebook page . I’ll be posting the progress of baby chicks, who should be flying on their own before surf season begins in November.
Photos, top to bottom: Mama seagull guarding her chicks after the fire, Carmel firefighters looking for a bird’s eye view of the blaze, firefighter out our kitchen window, and to the right, a nest of future smoke alarms.
Bev Sanders is founder and president of Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women and editor-in-chief of Jennifer’s Journey, the online travel portal for women adventurers. She started surfing at 44 continuing her lifelong pursuit of introducing women to sports. You’ll find her and husband Chris on the beach in Mexico throughout the surf season.