Column: Staff Writer Reflects on Neighbor’s Fire


28 El Gavilan Burning around 7 a.m.

Liz Berndt, Staff Writer

On the morning of Nov. 25, staff writer Liz Berndt awoke to see a fire engulfing her neighbors home. The following is a personal account of her experiences that morning. 

Approximately 6:36 a.m. Nov. 25, 2012 “Hello? Are you there? I need to report a fire. I need to report a fire! 28 el Gavilan Rd. is burning, please send someone, and please hurry.”

I drift between consciousness and unconsciousness. The sun outside my window is covered in a hazy fog and my mom is running up and down the hallway. I figure they are late to my brother’s basketball game.

“FIRE! Bob go get the hose!” my mom is screaming, a dog is barking and in the distance I can hear alarms going off. It’s no dream.

Frantically I run to the bathroom, figuring the ability to see is the most important thing in what seems like is a crisis. Problem is my hands won’t stop shaking. In a state of blurriness and confusion I shove my contacts into my eyes and run outside.

Dancing and stretching to the sky, my next door neighbor’s house is aflame, every memory being destroyed, pictures melting away and time slowing to a halt.

“Get your shoes on and go to the car. NOW!” mom is obviously scared, and with the fire department nowhere in sight and my dad spraying the deck and trees between our two houses, I am too.

I look at my room, trying to decide what to grab. If the fire gets in the trees our whole street will burn. So what do I take? What is important? Nothing stands out. Seventeen years of collecting miscellaneous objects, clothing and “valuables,” in one second all seem insignificant. I’m shocked. On my desk sits my computer, APUSH textbook and my strengths club binder, everything I had worked on the night before and on the floor lays my favorite pair of boots. I grab them.

6:41 a.m. “Hello? Hello? Thank God. Where are the fire trucks? I called over ten minutes ago! There is a station three minutes from our house. If this fire spreads we all lose our houses. Please, is anyone coming?” my mom’s voice is desperate.

Dear God, please look over the Otsmaa family, help them get home safely from their vacation and find the strength to deal with this horrible tragedy. They are amazing people. They don’t deserve this, no one does. Please help calm my little brother who seems to be more distraught than anyone; help him understand life will go on even if our house burns with theirs. Help my father continue to spray the fire and keep it contained until the firemen get here. And PLEASE show the firemen the way to our houses.

In a time of crisis I resorted to prayer. I knelt in the driveway, listening to my weeping brother and flustered sister, praying and asking for protection.

6:47 a.m. almost 20 minutes after the first distress call, we hear sirens. Men in uniform unload and a wave of relief washes over me. Surprisingly, little relief sticks. The men bumbled around and leisurely put on their coats. Workers mess with the fire hose and what seems like years pass before they start spraying the house.

I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what took so long. I don’t understand why the firemen seemed so nonchalant. And I don’t understand why the house burned for almost 40 minutes between the first call and the first sign of water. Every minute that passed, another picture burned and more of the house fell.  I am not a fire woman and I do not know how their job works entirely, but I do understand the devastation I felt as I watched a family’s life burn to nothing.  I understand the horror I felt, because for 15 minutes I was sure my house would burn too.