I t was in the late fall of 1975. I was living with my wife and son in an upstairs apartment on the north side of San Antonio—a twobedroom apartment.
Our downstairs neighbor was an older lady who lived alone in an apartment like ours with a living room adjoining a dining area facing a kitchen, and the bedrooms in the rear.
The neighbor was a smoker. Neither my (first) wife nor I smoked, and our son was ten years old.
Early one morning I had to get up from bed and smelled smoke. I checked our apartment and found nothing out of order, so I went back to bed—which was a mistake. An hour or two later we heard a loud knock on our door and the downstairs neighbor was there, saying her apartment was full of smoke.
I went outside far enough downstairs to see a fire in her living room. I warned her not to try to go in that room and immediately woke the family. I called 9-1-1 and reported the fire. There was no way to tell how much danger our apartment was in, but we chose to immediately evacuate it, and I knocked on doors to awaken residents of other apartments in our building. The fire department arrived in about ten minutes. By then the fire had broken a window and the fire was beginning to spread outside the living room. Firefighters quickly got the fire under control and later checked our apartment. They set out fans to clear any residual smoke and we were able to return.
The fire was a type that often happens in homes or apartments. A carelessly discarded cigarette in a sofa or chair started the upholstery smoldering until it burst into flame— having already filled the room with toxic smoke. This kind of fire often becomes deadly in the early morning hours, when everyone is asleep—and is likely to be fatal.
We didn’t have smoke alarms, which would probably have alerted us in time to avoid tragedy. As it was, we were lucky–able to escape injury and save our belongings.
The lesson: If you smoke, be careful to properly dispose of smoking materials and always be aware of the potential for a deadly fire. And everyone, get some smoke alarms, if you don’t already have them.
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.