Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, January 06, 2006

Living near a hospital we hear a lot of sirens, and sometime the emergency vehicle come down our rather narrow block. Even so, there seemed to be an unusual amount of activity on the block last night. A was already out for the count when I looked out the window and saw that there were several fire engines on the street. I pulled on a pair of pants and a jacket and went out to investigate. There were fire trucks from the house next to ours all the way down the block to Elmwood-- I'd estimate about 15 of them. All kinds-- rescue vehicles and pumpers, and big hook and ladders. I kept walking-- it was further down the block than I'd thought, and the size of the response told me that it couldn't be good. When I got to 169 I could see that this was one of the biggest fires I'd ever seen: even though the flames were mostly out, there was still a lot of smoke-- and there was firefighter activity in the houses on either side as well. "Did everyone get out?" I asked an EMS guy who was standing watching, but he didn't know. We now know that an older man was taken from the scene and died at the hospital-- I'm not sure who it was, but of course, on our small block, he would be someone I'd recognize. There seemed little point in lingering at the scene-- it was cold, and obviously there was nothing I could contribute, so I left. This morning I drove by-- 169 is a ruin, and will be torn down today. The house on the east side of it also looked to be in pretty rough shape.

This news report is all I have been able to find about the fire so far: I think it is interesting that, "Fire officials say the setup of the street made it difficult for crews to do their job." Lancaster is a narrow block, to be sure, and both sides of the street are typically filled with parked cars, but there is no snow on the ground, and our block is hardly atypical for the neighborhood or for Buffalo. I enjoy our block, which is more like a little village full of busybodies than a real city, and I know that this event will have a profound effect on us-- I just don't really have a very good feel for what that effect will be. The house was, like most of the houses on the block, an attractive Victorian that was probably well over a hundred years old, and tonight when I go home it will no longer be there. That part of Lancaster will look like a smile that is missing a tooth, and we will all look at it and know that it was the scene of a catastrophe. Will something new be built there? I imagine so, but whatever is put there will look oddly out of place, and those of us who will remember the fire will look at the new structure and remember that someone died there.

When I think about it that way, it is even more difficult to imagine what it must feel like to be from New Orleans-- an order of magnitude different, perhaps, or perhaps at some point the scale passes our ability to comprehend, and we turn instead to thinking about one neighborhood, one block, on house, one death.

2006 will be the year we had the fire on Lancaster Avenue. Funny, now that I think of it, but this midnight event will probably be the event that defines the year for our corner of the world. Posted by Picasa

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