Sunday, August 20, 2006

Where There's Smoke...

There was a huge fire down the street from my apartment in Oaklyn this afternoon. I was at work when it started. When my friend (and fellow volunteer) Erica came to pick me up around quarter of 6 PM, there was a giant, thick plume of heavy black smoke coming from Oaklyn's direction. Erica ended up having to drop me off as close to my place as she could get, because West Clinton Avenue was almost entirely blocked off.

The electricity was off when I finally got home. I read for about a half-hour or so before finally deciding to go out to dinner and hope everything would be on when I came back. I changed into regular clothes and headed down the street to find an open, electrified restaraunt.

People were crowded around the many fire trucks on West Clinton. They sat in front of their houses, looking a little shell-shocked. It was like a cross between a barbecue and a natural disaster. Kids rode bikes, played catch, and pestered their parents with questions they couldn't (or wouldn't) answer. I couldn't tell what was burning on West Clinton at first, thanks to all the smoke and fire trucks, at first, until I made out the lines of ladder trucks leaning against the buildings next to the Vending Machine building that houses three local businesses.

Oh God, I thought, it's the Vending Machine building.

The Vending Machine building has to be at least 30s vintage, like a lot of West Clinton Avenue. It's also next to houses and across from Oaklyn High School. I was thankful it was Sunday. Any businesses in the building would be closed, and school is still out for the summer. I was more worried about the houses. This area is fairly densely populated, and a lot of people WOULD be at home on a Sunday in August.

I continued down Manor Avenue, looking for friends and making sure everything else was ok. Never found my friends, but the rest of the street was fine, if also lacking in electricity. I ended up having dinner at the Newton Diner on the White Horse Pike. I got more details from a college-student-age waitress there and a middle-aged couple from Oaklyn who, like me, were eating out because they couldn't cook. According to the waitress, the fire began around 4:30 and explosions were heard shortly after, which is when the fire went out of control. The couple added that they'd heard the explosions were caused by cars in the auto body shop in the Vending Machine building going up in flames.

After stuffing myself with a Monte Cristo (turkey, ham, melted swiss, and pineapple rings on French toast - my favorite open-face sandwich), I headed home. The smoke, which had still been spilling out onto the White Horse Pike around 7, wasn't nearly as bad an hour later. I stopped at the new WaWa across from Newton's and had a Cherry-Berries n' Cream Coke (Cherry Coke and Vanilla Coke with raspberry syrup - every convience store should have awesome make-your-own-soda-flavor syurps), and when I came out, the smoke was even less and there were lights on in many buildings, though most people still seemed to be gathered outside.

Yes, the electricity was on when I came home, and there was no damage done, though the block of West Clinton two blocks from me as of 8:30 was still taped off (I had to make my way around it; my eyes are still watering a little) and the smoke was still fairly thick but not nearly as black. I heard someone mention one of the reasons the firemen had a hard time controlling the blaze was the doors were locked so tight due to the businesses being closed on Sundays, they couldn't get in!

Here's more detailed (and likely accurate) information from the Courier-Post, as of 7:30PM...

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