Monday, July 02, 2007

Smoky night

We arrived in Palo Alto, Calif., last night to the smell of smoke and the sound of sirens, not far off.

A four-alarm fire gutted a Walgreens drugstore on University Avenue, about five blocks away from our apartment. When I walked by around 11 this morning, firefighters were still hosing down hot spots, and streets were cordoned off with yellow tape for several blocks in each direction.

At the fire's peak, flames rose 20 feet in the air and windows exploded onto the street. Arson is suspected, according to the online edition of the Palo Alto Weekly. The building has stood at University and Bryant for at least 70 years.

All morning, people stopped to stare, take pictures, and share with passing strangers their stories of how they found out about the fire, how it had looked and smelled. A white-haired woman told me these things, then said, "How sad, how sad." Perhaps the sharing mitigates the sadness.

It was odd to see neat displays of T-shirts and flip-flops in the street-level windows. Behind them must be a blackened, sodden mess, but from across the street all looks normal.

We'll be living in Palo Alto for several weeks, on our second annual mini-sabbatical.

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