Lights, chainsaws, and smoke


Red and blue alternating flashes flipped a u-turn, pulled up next to the curb, and backed up 10 feet. The kids across the street backed four cars out of a shared driveway. Next came Engine 2 from the San Luis Obispo Fire Department; then Engine 3; then the big kahuna, mammoth-sized engine with a ladder that extends from its top. Yellow-clad firefighters hopped out as college students stopped on the sidewalk and ran down their driveways.

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Sparks that looked like fireworks without the sound flickered above a green tree. They were coming from the roof.

A chainsaw started up: brrrrimmmm, brimmmm, brimmmmm. Generators whirred and chugged to life. The behemoth’s long white ladder lifted off the truck, slowly spun around, perfectly missing the power lines, and began stretching its neck, each section that poked out was smaller than the last. Firefighters started cutting through the roof. The first cut was two feet long; the second one was one-and-a-half feet. And they kept cutting until they could pull the rectangle of slats and shingles off. Smoke eeked out, billowing into a column visible only because of the five-story tall ladder shining bright beams of gigantic emergency lights into the 9:40 p.m. darkness.


Policemen shut the street down, using their flashlights to turn away cars. Someone put orange cones out in a semi-straight row across the turn lane.

More engines showed up; this time they were Cal Fire trucks. A long flat hose rolled out, firefighters dragged it across the four-lane, usually busy, Foothill Boulevard. Water sprayed from the fire hydrant. They hooked it together, water filled the hose, pfft, engorging the lifeless hose as it snaked its way across the street.


The neighboring houses emptied, as residents watched. Firefighters climbed down from the roof, while others with face masks and oxygen tanks went inside. Water trickled down from a vent charred from the fire.

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A tall boy with a buzz cut and a Cal Poly shirt said, “Since this is my house, should I pose for your pictures?” He said he was eating dinner when he heard a knock at the door. It was a girl from next door. She told him his roof was on fire, and it was then that he noticed what seemed like water trickling from the ceiling. “But we’re all OK,” he said, walked away, and got on his cell phone. He was still in his socks.

A utility truck’s here now. It must have been downed wires that caused the sparks, that lit the fire. At least, that’s what people are saying. The power lines look like they’re draped across the house. Someone just bought that house this summer. Lucky them.