Sunday, 20 December 2009

Fire! Fire!

On Sunday night, husband and I were woken by a strange popping sound which sounded like it was coming from the garden.

"What's that?" he murmured.
"Sounds like firecrackers. Do you think someone is in the garden?"
"Sounds like rocks being thrown in the river," he said.

Being woken up is nothing special. I honestly cannot remember the last unbroken night's sleep I had, there are such a large number of interruptions possible every night:

1. There are often fireworks here, so we are quite used to being woken up.
2. The constantly expanding pack of wild dogs which still live under our garden wall are now quite unbelievably loud at all times of day and night (I am moving back to murderous thoughts on this subject and think I will tackle this issue in the spring).
3. Our three children seem to be on a permanent cold and flu cycle this winter and consequently one of them wakes up every night. The larger ones wander into our room to be met with a short and firm, "Have a drink of water and go back to your own bed'" from us. The little one simple wails "Mummy, mummy, mummy," incessantly until either she falls asleep again, or one of us goes and gives her a cuddle.
4. New baby is now kicking hard enough to wake me up roughly every 30 minutes through the night!

This popping sound was a new phenomenon though, and when husband got up to go to the loo he suddenly said, "Bloody hell, FIRE!".

The photo is the view from our bed. I am not sure if you can tell from this mobile phone snap, but these flames were rising at least 20 feet into the dark night sky.

It was obviously someone's house on fire, very close to our own. Husband grabbed his jeans and headed off to see if anyone needed any help. He came back 45 minutes later reporting that they had woken the people in the next door house by banging on the windows (they had all still been asleep which is quite amazing considering the noise), and that the police were there. There were also five fire engines which had eventually turned up, but because of the three inches of compacted, sheet ice on the road, only two had been able to get access up the lane. And it had then taken fire agents at least 30 minutes to locate the fire hydrant which is in front of our house (we did not know this - it is disguised as a normal drain cover, completely unlabelled, and is most likely covered in snow for most of the winter - and obviously neither did they!).

It was awful to think of these poor people, their entire house being burnt to a crisp in the middle of winter and only a matter of days before New Year and its celebrations. We still don't know if anyone died in the blaze. The house that burnt down was one of the ramshackle little wooden cottages that still exist among the newer (not necessarily any more fire resistant) houses that have been recently constructed.

Husband came back to bed, snuggled under our lovely duvet and said: "This is why we could never leave the kids alone in Kazakhstan". He is dead right and of course we already knew this. It is a random place Kazakhstan. You never quite know what is going to happen, and how things will be dealt with.

Friends here almost set their huge house on fire with their patio heater recently. It took over an hour for the fire services to arrive, during which time they had melted their roof, blown up their barbecue, destroyed both patio heaters and burnt a significant hole in the floor of their pool house, before seeking refuge a long way from the flames in case of further explosions.

Other developing world fire stories that I remember include seeing a fire engine screaming down the road in Sao Paulo very fast, responding to a call out.  It went shooting through a traffic junction, but didn't take into account the variable camber of the road, and with all the bouncing around, every single roll of coiled hose fell off the roof and they had to stop and pick them all up.

And the most awful of all was in Bangkok where the road next to our nanny's road caught on fire and there was a huge fire that destroyed an entire slum located behind the US embassy in Sathorn district. We later found out that all the American embassy workers who parked their cars in the back streets of this part of Bangkok had been pre-warned that it might not be a good idea to park on the roads next to the slum. And even worse, the blackened limits of the fire were all in straight lines around a large rectangular plot of land. Lo and behold, the area which had previously housed around 5,000 people was soon redeveloped to build a five-star condominium and the poor people from that area set up new homes under canvass in a new plot of land next to a 6-lane road. Evil!

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