Fury Over the Fire
The sun is shining. With intentions of biking outside, my day took a dramatic turn...
Around 9:30am I started to smell smoke, something is burning... I begin exploring my house. Nothing. About that time I get a 3 burst buzz (so, I live in a big house that's been constructed into 7 private apartments. Our parking or courtyard area is behind a fence and gate. Outside of the gate, we all have buzzers that ring into little phones in our home so if we have guests or deliveries, they can buzz us and we can come out and open the gate. Normally a buzz is one continuous ring, and then I pick up the phone, pronto?, and it's the poste or courier. This one was a 3 burst buzz and when I picked up the phone, no one was there). Of course that triggers me to go outside because 1) Luca is expecting a package and 2) I was exploring where the smell of smoke was coming from anyway.
Immediately I see the black smoke and shoot out of my yard (additionally we all have private entrances with our own yards with our own fences and gates).
The neighbors gate is wide open, the door is wide open, and black smoke is pouring out.
I call out HEY! HEY! Worried that someone might need help. I hear what sounds like popcorn popping and thought, someone has left popcorn in the microwave to burn. However, the smoke is getting thicker. (Keep in mind all of my thoughts and actions are happening fast).
I'm trying to video call Luca to show him what's happening as well (he's at work but actually taking an exam so he isn't able to answer). I'm quite concerned that someone is in there and possibly hurt so I dart around the courtyard to where the neighbors park to see if their car is there. Sure enough, the guys white car is there. Someone is in there! I return to their yard, closer to the door this time, croutch below the smoke (it's WAY thick now and billowing out) yelling HEY HEY do you hear me!? into the house. It's too thick and really coming out, I have to back out of the yard when I see the guy, our main gate opening, flying out of there in his car like a bat out of hell! WTF!!! I scream HEYYY!!!
Meanwhile I'm still trying to dial Luca and now our upstairs neighbor (and friend) Marco too. It's clearly much more of an emergency now.
p.s. the actual timeline (so you realize how quick this is all happening)
All between 9:30-9:34 - smell smoke, explore home, 3 burst buzz, and heading outside
9:35 - first video call to Luca
9:37 - first text to Luca - EMERGENCY!!!!!
9:39 - first video call to Marco
9:40 - first text to Marco - Emergenza! Vicino casa Fire Smoke
9:41 - text to Marco he left!! The guy was here and left!! He took off in his car!!!
And I'm moving, actions, during ^ all that.
I'm also quite panicked but keeping my cool. What do I do, what do I do? Of course I wanted/needed to call 112 (equivalent to 911) but it'd be better if Luca or Marco did because - language. And/but right at that moment, a neighbor (outside of our courtyard) was driving by, obviously seeing the black smoke and stops. I yell, parlo poco, auito, fuoco, auito, call uno uno due!! (making the finger call/phone sign). Marco pops his head out of his window Lisa!!! ... Marco, fuoco! Vieni qua!! and rushes down as well (he had been in the shower).
By this time we're hearing sirens. So someone has called and we find out who later...
But now everyone is arriving, rushing, working. I was actually so impressed. I've never seen Italy work so smooth. The Vigili del Fuoco was in and moving, fire fighters rushing in with water hoses and axes...it was dramatically cool. The Carabinieri (which are a military police force), the medico, and the polizia are all arriving. But it wasn't chaos as I would have expected. It was actually very organized and everyone had their job.
Marco is helping me share my version of what happened with my broken ass Italian to the authorities, filling in the blanks, while we wait for Luca to arrive (who was finally able to take my call and rushed home - the benefit of living 4 minutes from base!!). Long story short, let me tell you what happened:
The guy exits his home, potentially ringing me (the 3 burst buzz), and goes to our neighboring house (who actually own and rent our house), he tells the old woman, call the ambulance I'm burning and call the fire, the house is burning and there are people inside (people is ME - our neighbors know that I work from home and am here throughout the day. People is a Moroccan woman with a young child that lives here whom we don't see often, without her husband anyway, and we can speculate that she's also in the building. People is also Marco, our friend who lives upstairs and was also home). During that time I'm exiting my home, seeing the smoke, call into the house and nothing. Perhaps he returns inside the home to grab keys or something just in time for me to see his car but I rush back around to the open door while he is rushing out the back door and jumping in his car. In which I see flying out of our courtyard like a bat out of hell. WTF is happening, right!? Speculation, he's rushing himself to the hospital??
Eventually the wife, the mother, and other family members arrive. We are all dissecting what happened, what is happening, and/but/so where is the guy? Calls are made to hospitals and clinics but are coming up empty. He's not answering calls nor texts nor has he tried to contact his wife or family. We know that he didn't show up to work today, he's potentially burnt, and he left his home, OUR building, on fire. He's missing.
~I also want to let you know that Italian houses are typically all stone. Our walls, floors, ceilings - the structure - is all stone. The only wood you'll find to burn is the contents of the home, windows and doors. Therefore, while his apartment was afire, ours were safe (fire doesn't burn through stone). And because we all caught it soon enough it didn't heat enough to open fire, nor damage, in other apartments of the home. Had the fire continued to burn and heat the inside (stone) of his apartment, it would have eventually heated all of our apartments, also catching fire on the inside. But worse first, the fire would have found the gas lines.~
At this point, because I asked!!, they don't know if the fire was intentional or accidental. They could tell where it started (the bed) and because there was an outlet there, couldn't tell if it was an appliance perhaps (a short), or what - don't they have fire investigators here!? I watch enough crime shows to know that you CAN tell where and HOW a fire started. Frustrating. Because clearly, if it's an electrical issue, I need to know, or do I need to be concerned!? But the guy smokes too...did he fall asleep in bed with a lit cigarette? There's no evidence... and he's missing. The fireman goes on to say that his behavior is quite suspicious but generally an intentional fire is much greater than what we see here. But it's all very curious.
The confusion and hysterics go on all morning through lunch. One by one though, the fire, the carabinieri, and people leave. The girl and her family remove all that they can from the disaster. Ironically, the couple was scheduled to move into their new home in 15 days. Luca returns to work, Marco to life, and it's quiet again, smelling of leftover fire and tragedy. I sit on the edge of my couch, numb.
What. The. Fuck. Just. Happened. I'm full of - I need to get this all out of me!! - and I'm trying to call my momma; it's too early in the states. I sat there for near 2 hours. Just kind of stunned. I didn't know what to do with myself. What ifs were rushing through my brain, fear, angst...my goodness, I was going to go IN THERE! Our fucking house was on fire. What if I hadn't been home? And where the hell was the guy!?
Eventually I pulled myself together and decided that an outside bike ride was not in my day, so I jumped on the trainer to burn my anxiety off - too soon? I texted my friend Danielle spilling all my guts around the tragedy; I just needed it out!! Eventually the same with a video call to my mom. Wow. Just wow. Don't focus on the what ifs...it's behind us now and everyone (hopefully-the guy!?) is safe and alive. And later more discussions with my love. You gotta talk about this kind of stuff!
I found myself quite angry. And now, having the full picture, I'm furious...
Marco texted us the news article this morning. The guy was found, at a hospital, 2 hours away in Grosseto. With no destination in site, he eventually had to pull off the highway, in pain, for a hospital.
The full story: he ate laundry soap, poured kerosene on himself, caught his bed on fire, and laid down to die. To burn. At the last moment, he panicked or chickened out - call it what you will - and rushed to the neighbor (potentially also 3 burst buzzing me) informing her to call the fire department because the house is on fire and there are people in the house. Perhaps he was seeking my assistance or warning me of the fire, I hope he buzzed us all. I want to believe he did and that it was him who 3 burst buzzed me - this is the only sense that calms my anger. And then he fled. He FLED.
Wreaking of gasoline and sick from ingesting laundry soap, the doctor at the hospital in Grosseto was suspicious and called the police. The guy was in the police system and they relayed his appearance to the Sarzana police. So far, there's no report of why he did this and we are sure the wife was completely blindsided by it. There was no sign of concern and as mentioned, they were building a home and preparing to move in two weeks. Having seen his car here often during the days, Luca and I think that maybe he lost his job and was afraid to tell her. Suicide might have been his way out of his troubles but clearly he desired his life more and pulled out. It's hard to imagine death by fire. How excruciating.
Once again, the what ifs. Guys, I was going to go in there. I mean, try anyway... had I not seen him flee I would have assumed he was hurt inside the apartment and gone in for a rescue mission. It was instinct!! A person intentionally burning alive isn't going to be too keen on a rescue.
And then there's the fact that he left. He was just going to leave with our building burning!? What if I wasn't home!? I mean, I guess the old woman would have still called and firefighters would have came. But who's to know!? Oh you fucker, I have a DOG!!
And even worse - what if I watched the firefighters pull a dead burnt up body out of his home, our home! Oh my God, the what ifs... I know I can't. We can't even think about the what ifs. Luca tells me, if we think about the what ifs, we never live. We become afraid of all things, all what ifs. The tragedy isn't in the what ifs, it's in the now; this man is sick. He's hurting and sick. The wife. Her entire world has just been changed, traumatized. While my heart aches for them, I can't help but feel my own sickness and fury over the fire.
The red circled gate on the left is mine; the one on the right, the neighbors (which was left wide open). The yellow line is where a short stone wall separates our yards. The door directly behind the tree leads to their bedroom (the room that was on fire - butted up against my kitchen). The door to the right of the tree is the one that was left wide open with smoke billowing out. The finger pointing is both where the main gate to our courtyard is and around the side of those steps is where the neighbors park.
The firefighters removed pieces from the bedroom one by one, soaking them with water, while flooding the inside with the same.
I was surprised by how long the fire department stayed, intermittently re-entering the home to ensure 100% safety.
The article from this morning explaining his discovery in Grosseto and peculiar behavior.
The conclusion that enrages me, makes me sick, but also breaks my heart.
Some of the aftermath from the outside. The apartment has been deemed unlivable and will undergo many inspections before new neighbors take residence.
Today: Heading out for my run, the young wife was here clearing out more of their things. I shared my sympathy and asked if they found him, if she talked to him, and such...
Her response, Yes. And yes. In Grosseto. But why? I don't know. He lost his mind. I just don't know.
As her eyes filled with tears, I offered my deepest sympathy and strongest hug for this girl who probably feels like she's lost everything. Her what ifs are a brutal reality while mine are just an illusion and yet all of us burn fury over the fire.