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April 12, 2010 / Katie

Where There’s Smoke

Around bedtime last night a smoky, ash-laden smell filled my apartment. I even remarked to myself out loud: “Smokayyy.” But, in the end, I ignored the alarm bells going off in my head and assumed it was probably leftover remnants wafting up the chimney next door that belongs to a Buddhist temple. The monks had been burning something, perhaps paper deities, throughout the day for a special holiday. (I’m sure that old brick thing is a health code violation, and did I mention it expels its fumes right below our sixth floor balcony and into my air conditioning vent? But what can you do. 没有办法.)

On my way to work this bright Spring morning, I noticed first that a movie crew had set up shop on my block with all of their equipment, and then, as I got further along, that the next street was blocked off with yellow caution tape while several fire trucks sat ominously in the middle of the street. The air smelled dense, of charcoal, and, well, smoky. I’m tempted to say like BBQ, but this was no cha siu cook off.

Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.

Once I reached the corner of Grand and Forsyth I could see clearly the fire’s wreckage. A sickly gray building with sooty clouds rising from the roof and water spilling out the windows. None of the vendors on the street were open. The scene would have been entirely sobering except for the Chinatown lookie-loos standing behind the soccer field fence in the park catty-corner, trying to catch a glimpse of drama. (Chinese people love to stop and stare at things on the street, especially verbal disputes that have the potential to escalate into physical ones. Still, they’re not fussy when it comes to sidewalk entertainment. They’ll even stop to watch cement dry–trust me, I’ve seen it all.)

In my rush to get to work, I didn’t have time to digest the seriousness of the incident. I simply hopped into the subway and was on my way. It wasn’t until my dad called me at work to make sure I was alive and well that I realized the fire might be newsworthy.

Apparently, it wasn’t just any ordinary fire. It made the 7-Alarm grade and I slept right through the raging inferno. It would have been a sight to see at midnight from across rooftops.

200 people occupied the three buildings hit by the fire–another health code violation that doesn’t surprise me. They know how to pack ’em in down here. Luckily, most of the residents escaped without injury, although several elderly residents are reported to be in critical condition. Update: One man died in the fire; his body was not discovered until Monday evening.

Some photos from the street via tottenham cake. For complete coverage, see Bowery Boogie.

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