It was very lucky that my son was suffering from a bout of vomiting yesterday.
I admit, I wouldn’t normally consider this to be lucky. But if he hadn’t regurgitated his breakfast, he would have been at school at the time. And if it hadn’t been a case of a dodgy stomach, he’d have been sitting at the lunch table with us, oblivious to what was happening outside.
As it was, he was walking across the courtyard, so it was him who smelled burning and spotted the small column of smoke rising above the garage next door.
The rest of us were having lunch, when he wandered in saying: “I think something might be on fire outside.”
It is not often that the dear members of my family witness the amusing sight of me sprinting. But when someone mentions fire, I tend to break into a canter. I’m nervous of fire, you see. And in this case, it was a good thing I did. I dashed outside, just in time to see what by now was a large column of black smoke rising into the air. A second later orange flames shot thirty feet up… a pine tree burst into flames above the neighbours garage.
I ran back inside.
“Call the fire brigade!” I bellowed. “Feuerwehr anrufen!” I shrieked for emphasis. (There was at least one German present.)
What followed indoors was a brief and unseemly game of pass the telephone as though it were a hot potato while the Brits panicked… “What’s the number?”
“One One Two!” I yelled as I sprinted out again (once I start sprinting momentum sets in…).
Indoors Birgit wrestled the telephone from the inept island-monkeys and jabbed at the keypad, while I dashed first to one neighbour’s house then the next to ring the doorbells. The flames were about three metres from each of these houses and I could see that one of their garages was already alight.
There was nobody home.
By now the rest of the family had come outside. I sent my daughter over to the neighbour on the far side to ring the bell and alert anyone in the house to the fire – she was the person to do it because she knows a secret short-cut up the stream-bed. We then split up tasks… two to the top of the road to direct the fire brigade. Two stay and help the emergency services down this end.
At that moment our neighbour whose garage was burning arrived in her car. She ran up to the open garage and hauled out her lawnmower and bicycles near the entrance before deciding that personal safety was more important than anything further back in the building. The heat from the fire was quite fierce by now. Next came a police car, with the policewoman driver radioing details of the inferno back to base.
As there was nothing I could help with there, I went in search of my daughter to find out what had happened to the neighbour on the other side. I found her at the top of the road with the others. It seemed that half the neighbourhood was hanging around there gawping – but nobody but us had thought to dial the fire brigade or check if lives were in danger.
Finally we heard sirens approaching. Again, the neighbourhood watched as though it were primetime TV – but nobody moved a muscle – so I stepped into the road and gesticulated which direction they should go in. First fire-truck down to the far neighbour where the fire had started. Second one down our lane to the burning garage.
The next few minutes were a haze of flashing lights, unrolling hoses and burly men in helmets. It turned out that our nearest fire hydrant was defective. Fortunately the hoses reached as far as the next one which did work.
The sound of sirens was everywhere by now. Our little neighbourhood fire had been classified as a “Großbrand” so several fire engines, 25 firemen, many police cars and even a police helicopter were called. The roads between Meerbusch and Kaarst were closed off and we were pretty much in lock-down.
The source of the fire, it turned out, had been our neighbour on the other side, tinkering with his old camper van in his home-made car-port. He’d been running the engine when the van caught fire – and then set light to the entire structure. The car-port was built against our direct neighbours’ garage so that went up too. The members of the fire brigade were quite excited to learn that there were also some old gas cylinders stored in the car port. This may explain their very rigorous approach to squirting foam all over the property. This is what it looked like afterwards...
Luckily the fire brigade were able to prevent the fire spreading to our neighbours’ actual house, and nobody was hurt. But that was quite enough excitement for one day…