Even worse was when I went out back, and saw the horror:
Soon after (in the middle of the afternoon), the power went out; it only came back on this evening, after eight. After talking with a neighbor, I talked with a lady who lived in the third house (whom I later lent a blanket, as she ran out of her house with just nightclothes on this chilly day), which the firefighters used to fight the fire at the other two homes, suffered the least damage. Nonetheless, it was condemned like the other two, because of damage to the structural integrity of her home. Thankfully, she had somewhere to stay for the time being, but she was clearly, understandably, shaken.
My neighbors and me wondered why the sprinkler system seemed to fail, why the fire got so out of hand. One firefighter said that the effectiveness of the sprinklers depends on where the fire begins--if it begins in the attic (the only place in the house with no sprinkler), then it spreads quickly to the roof. If it begins outside, it quickly spreads upward, again before the sprinkler can really begin to put out flames.
I was told later by a fireman that the fire began in the back, and that it was probably electric in nature. Which only makes me more nervous. What was the source of the electic failure leading to fire? The fire, from what I can tell, didn't take that long to really get roaring, with the wind whipping around. I called a neighbor to let her know not to come home too early, as the streets were blocked from both directions (turns out, for more than two hours), and the electricity was out most of this time.
All this chaos got me to wondering just how prepared am I, if at all, for such an emergency. After all, fires are, unfortunately, not that uncommon, especially during the colder months. I did have enough canned goods on hand to not have to immediately crack open the fridge to get something to eat. (And have a manual can opener to open them, if needed.) The immediate streets were closed off for a couple of hours, which wouldn't have been too much of a hardship to hoof if I had to, as I'm used to taking reasonably long walks in the area. But that could have been a problem for seniors or the disabled. (As no one could get in or out this afternoon except by foot, and this is no cul-de-sac.) Having some cash on hand would not have been a bad thing, either.
Now that the lights are back on, and the fire's been put out, I'll have to check with some neighbors to see how we're going to help the ones who are displaced; there's been talk of taking up a collection. I hope it'll be more than mere talk.