Monday, February 06, 2006
Fire and a Ledge 16 Storeys Up
Tonight I almost burned down our apartment building and killed Gato. Well, I guess she would've died if the fire took hold, but no, I almost killed her another way.
I was browning a pork shoulder roast that I was planning on serving with grilled corn on the cob, apple sauce, a rich white wine gravy and steamed broccoli. This pork had a healthy layer of fat on either side and much of it was rendering out of the meat as I seared it against my trusty cast-iron pan. Rendering out the fat would mean a somewhat leaner roast and nice crispy crackling. As I turned the roast to brown another surface, the oil in the pan caught fire. A small fire, about 3-4 inches high. Instantly, the smoke alarm goes off. A sharp, insistent beeping, intended to alert the resident of smoke. Uhh, yeah, thanks. I know there's smoke. That's because there's a fire. On my stove.
Quickly moving the roast to a ready plate, my thoughts turned to the smoke alarm. Left alone it could trigger the fire alarms on the floor (and then the whole building). The worst case scenario is that the sprinklers would go off causing water damage to everything within its range. Which would be everything on the 16th floor, minimally. Not to mention water on a grease fire would cause the fire to spread. This is because oil, being lighter than water, would float to the top of the water thrown on it and flow with the water (as well as attach itself to the water splatter) and spread. Unlike the smoke alarm in my previous apartment (which could easily be disconnected) this smoke alarm required that you stand under it with a pliable object (say, a magazine) and fan the smoke away from it. It cannot be disconnected for safety reasons.
I could not address the smoke alarm, however, because in the time it took to transfer the roast from the flaming pan to a plate on the kitchen counter behind me the flames grew to over a foot in height. It had not stopped growing. Two feet above the surface of the stove was the microwave cum cooker hood. Already thin tongues of flame were licking at the plastic and hungrily eyeing the flanking cabinets. Lesson one of 'O' level Food and Nutrition: You cannot put out a grease fire with water. You must use sand or, ideally, a fire extinguisher.
Now my favourite TV cook Alton Brown
tirelessly advocates keeping a fire extinguisher close at hand in the kitchen. Had I listened, I would not have been in the predicament I had found myself in earlier tonight.
The only sand-like substance I had on hand was cat litter, which is usually made of clay. The only problem is that we use cat litter made of pine
. As in wood. As in flammable. Congratulations, the fire is now 2 feet tall. Congratulations, the smoke alarm is still threatening to tell the sprinkler system that there is a fire, loudly, hampering your ability to think clearly. Congratulations, the phone is ringing. It's probably the concierge calling to ask if everything's alright.
"Not now Jim."
Impressively able to not degenerate into a panicking mess, I came to terms with the fact that the only fire retardant I had on hand, regrettably, was water. Picking up the first towel I could find (amongst the trodden piles of dirty laundry in our hallway - I could almost hear my grandmother saying, "this is why you should keep things neat") I drenched it in water, prayed that water in this form would not encourage the already very enthusiastic flames, and threw it over the pan.
At first I didn't know if that sound was good or bad. It was the kind of sound that you hear in movies when they light a gas barbecue, or when you turn on your gas fireplace. Thankfully, it was good. The flames were out. The towel was steaming and smoking and I couldn't tell between the two. Now to take care of the smoke.
I was able to stop the screaming less than a minute after I had begun fanning it. I was just turning to open the windows when the smoke alarm started up again. The apartment was so smoke-filled by now that I had to fan it constantly to keep the smoke particles away from deflecting those weak radioactive particles that told the detector that everything was still a-okay. I was trapped. I had to keep fanning. I must've been quite a sight in nothing but my bra and undies, arm outstretched toward the ceiling, fanning and coughing, throat sore, eyes watering.
Ten minutes later I was able to leave the alarm long enough for me to open all three windows in our apartment. The windows are located near the floor of our apartment as opposed to the middle or top. This meant that the smoke (which rises) did not disperse as quickly as it could've otherwise. Five more minutes of fanning and I could stop.
Leaving the windows open to allow the rest of the smoke to disperse naturally, I plopped the roast onto one of my spare oven dishes, haphazardly threw in some white wine and chicken stock and shoved it in the oven. Then I picked up the phone and called take-out. I wasn't about to do more cooking.
Dinner arrived, it was good. We got it from this mediterranean place on Robson street that sells Hot Wings (the place is called Sammy's Hot Wings) and mediterranean food. Like sharwamas and gyros and really tasty roast lamb. Oh, they also sell two kinds of Philly cheese steak (or chicken, if you prefer) sandwiches.
After dinner, I'm gazing out the window and see Gato.
Thinking that it's merely a reflection of Gato in the window, I look to the corresponding point in my living room. She's not there. Gato is walking along a 3-inch wide ledge outside my window. The same windows I had opened to let out the smoke. The ledge is about a foot from the glass, between the ledge and the glass is a grating with 3-inch gaps. The grating is merely pencil-wide metal pieces set perpendicular to the ledge. Every two feet or so there is a wider piece. As we watch her pace, we see her back leg slip. She recovers, but Jim and I still haven't.
Jim starts calling to her. As usual, she completely ignores him. Forefront in both our minds is that she might not be as lucky on her next slip. It's cold metal out there, possibly slippery with condensation, or the last rainfall. It was dry all day, but Vancouver is relatively humid. Chances are good that the ledge is at least moist
Jim started to place my textbooks on the grating, hoping to make it easier to come back into the apartment. She had approached both the bedroom window and the living room window twice, sniffing into the apartment and then leaving. It crossed our minds that the difficulty of launching off those pencil-thin grates into the apartment might render her unable to come back in (the grating is about 6 inches below the lower edge of our windows). Just our hearts are about to explode, she saunters into the living room (across the grating, no less) and walks to her food bowl for a quick snack. We quickly shut the windows.
Jim and I polished off a bottle of Southern Comfort
in an effort to calm our nerves. Didn't help.
I'm going to look for some vodka. Fucking eh.
posted by Joie! at