Friday, August 31, 2007

Dorm Fires: Don't Sleep with Candles Burning!

Candle in the Wind
Originally uploaded by The G-tastic 7

I just read an article on The Consumerist that reminds me of a great personal story.

When I was in college, I lived in fraternity house. My room was in the basement if you came in the front door, ground level if you entered from behind. It was a firetrap: mattress on the floor surrounded by every inch of floor being covered by piles of laundry ranging from one or two shirts near the bed to three-foot-high piles around the perimeter. I smoked in my room, but had no trouble ashing and extinguishing appropriately.

I was also a total pothead. I worked two jobs and would get home very late most nights. My ritual involved sitting on the bed and smoking a bong while I listened to music. I worked too much and had too low a self-image to ever get any action, so I had developed this routine.

Well, one night, a Saturday, I got home and got into my groove. For some reason, I was wanting to burn a candle. Not sure why, really. Sometimes candles are nice and comforting, I guess. I had a small votive candle in one of those plastic cups they put condiments in when you get take-out. (Bad idea.) It was next to my bed, on a stack of CD jewel boxes, on my alarm clock, on the milk crate that served as a book-case cum bedside table. I decided to keep the pleasant glow as I drifted off to sleep...

Near dawn on Sunday morning, I drifted fairly quickly into consciousness. Sade was playing on my alarm clock (I'd forgotten to turn it off for Sunday sleep-in.), one of those slow, sultry tunes for which I shall ever adore her. It was soooo powerful, the sound of her voice and the bright, orange light.

Bright orange light! I opened my eyes--ACK! About a foot from my head was a flame that was--like--over six inches high and broad enough to support that height. I bolted upright and, all at once, inhaled as deeply as I could to blow out the flame and said to myself, "Self, you are not going to be able to blow this fire out. Once you confirm this in about two seconds, you're going to have to move quickly. Think fast--run into the kitchen, get a large pot [frat kitchens have pots you could bathe in], and try to smother the fire with that."

I let out a huge exhale, and the fire miraculously extinguished. As I sat there panting, I realized the candle had been a bad idea. Sade was calming me. The flame had clearly spread from the dwindling votive to the plastic condiment container, then engulfed that, and spread to the plastic CD boxes stacked beneath it. Charred remains of Crystal Gayle's Greatest Hits and some early Outkast album were bubbling and sizzling there atop my alarm clock.

Phew, I thought, as I looked up to see that the room was filled with thick, black, plastic SMOKE! Oh shit! It's a Sunday morning, early, and I'm about to alert the whole house to my irresponsible actions by setting off the fire alarm and waking them all up!

I dove for the windows and threw them open, then opened the door to my room and the door to the outside, right next to my room's door. I proceeded to do some fairly energetic fanning, pushing the smoke outside and away from the smoke detectors.

Finally, the smoke dissipated, and I could be sure there would be no alarm. I closed my door and the outside door, leaving the windows open to clear that burned plastic smell, loaded up the bong, and passed out, exhausted, questioning my then-atheism.

So let that be a lesson to you: don't go to sleep with candles burning. Especially if you have them in plastic condiment containers. Especially if you live in a firetrap of a room that could become an inferno in no time flat. And especially if you don't want a sign from the great beyond that you just might not be as smart and autonomous as you think you are.

Update: Many thanks to my friend Anonymous for recalling that one of the best details of the disaster's aftermath was that we discovered all the cobwebs on my super-high ceilings had turned black from the smoke. Also, I recall that an old floor plan of our building labeled my room as "Garbage Room". This made me feel there was a bit of fate at play in my having been such a sloppy guy. (Unfortunately, old habits die hard and once the ghost of garbage past made me start being sloppy, I ended up carrying the curse with me into even the present day.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

good times. good times. you should mention that the cobwebs turned black. that was among the more arresting results of that incident.

September 3, 2007 at 2:50 PM  

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