As I stood on a neighbor’s second floor porch which looked onto the front steps of our house (secretly glad to still have the privacy of my back-side fire escape to work with), we each recounted our version of the events. I had woken up to the sounds of what seemed like someone trying to break down my door. I had slept in, so it was almost noon. I saw it was a bright, clear day, and my apartment was already full of light. I am being robbed, I thought, still a bit too sleepy to be scared. I briefly contemplated going out the window, went to get my phone. Then I heard, through the door, “Fire Department!” “Somerville Police!” They had come to rescue me.
My neighbor said he was standing in this very spot when he’d spotted the smoke on the porch. As he said this he leaned to see around the tree, like he did that morning. He pointed the smoke out to someone walking by and asked if anybody was barbequeing though he’d never seen anybody barbeque up there before. This second person called the fire department.
About five firetrucks and thirty firefighters showed up. By the time I got outside ten or so of the firefighters had made it onto our second floor porch and were breaking apart a support beam and dousing it with water. Smoke mixed with water ran down the side of the house.
It was just a small electrical fire, sparked by some exposed wires on the porch. But by the next morning our porches (2nd and 3rd floor) were condemned: deemed unsafe and a danger to its occupants. Supposedly the fire had weakened some of the supports, but as I stood on my neighbor’s porch which pitched forward precariously and threatened to dump us both out onto the street below, I wasn’t so sure any more. I said this to him. I pointed out how the uncertain structure seemed to sway with each step and each shift of weight; I pointed to some anchoring bolts that seem to have been pulled clean out of the wall. “If they ever came to have a look, I’m afraid your porch is going to be condemned, too,” I said, gravely.
He laughed. “If anybody ever looked, every house on this block would be condemned,” he said.