‘The day the Berkeley firefighters did right by me’

Andrew Leonard, front right, barefoot, watches as Berkeley firefighters work to quell a fire at his home. Photo: Keilou

Andrew Leonard, who has lived in Berkeley for 25 years, is a staff writer at Salon. On June 21, he woke up in the night to find his home was on fire. He tells the story in a piece published today on Salon:

Midnight in Berkeley, Calif. I am standing barefoot in the middle of the street watching firefighters rush in and out of my home. My phone rings. It is my daughter, calling from a small town in Normandy, France.

“Dad,” she says. “What’s going on? I got an email from a neighbor saying our house is on fire?!”

Yes, I tell her. Our house is on fire. As I speak into the phone, I watch a chainsaw-wielding firefighter cut a hole in my roof. Two others are getting their oxygen tanks replaced.


“What happened?”

I try to shake off the shock and humiliation. I thought I had reached that point in my life when a late-night call from my children would mean they had their own disasters to report. But this catastrophe is all mine. My best guess, I tell my daughter, is that after her brother and I had grilled burgers earlier that evening, a charcoal ember had slipped through the decrepit ash-catcher underneath the grill and smoldered for hours in the wooden deck before exploding into flame.

No one was hurt, I tell her. After dinner, her brother had biked over to a friend’s house to play video games. I had gone to bed early, preparing myself for what I expected to be a very busy morning of Supreme-Court-striking-down-Obamacare news coverage the next day. But around 10:30 I’d woken up, alarmed by strange popping-and-crackling sounds.

Continue reading on Salon.

Related:
A personal thank you to the Berkeley Fire Department [12.28.11]


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