Where there was smoke (Me and my friends’ fire survival story)

As some of you probably already know, there was a fire at Prince David Condo, a building in front of Ateneo Friday afternoon.

What most of you probably did not know, my friends and I was there. We were at the top most floor, right below the roof deck.

Photo lifted from https://anc.yahoo.com/news/fire-breaks-out-at-qc-condo-055800824.html
Photo lifted from https://anc.yahoo.com/news/fire-breaks-out-at-qc-condo-055800824.html

Thankfully, we all survived.

Here’s our story, from my POV.

It was Friday, around 12:20 Noon.

Boom.

“Ano yun?” Marston, behind me, asked.
“Baka gust lang.” I dismissed.

A few seconds later, JP got out of the room and asked the same. We both dismissed that it was probably just a strong wind.

I smelled something burning. JP looked like he smelled it too.

*Explosion? Transformer?* I thought. I looked out our veranda. People were looking up our building, pointing to the upper floors. *Looks like the explosion happened at our building. LPG?*

I ran to the door to check if there’s a fire on our floor, and what I saw was black, thick smoke covering half of our hallway. There weren’t any fire alarms though.

“Usok!”

“Tara. Grab everything that’s important, magbasa ng tuwalya pantakip sa ilong at bibig.” I don’t remember who gave out orders, but this is pretty much what I had in mind.

Each one of us knew what to do. It was just a flurry of running around grabbing everything that we need and wetting towels. We switched off our breaker. Within 2 minutes, we were ready to go.

We piled on at the door ready to head out. Me, JP then Marston. I opened the door and the thick black smoke was making its way to the corner of our bend in the hallway.

“Kailangan nating flashlight.”

We closed the door and retreated again.

“May flashlight si James sa kwarto.” Marston offered. *Too much time to look for it.* I thought.

I took out my phone, switched on the LED light and I went in front again. I opened the door, with my phone in hand, I took one step into the smoke and I couldn’t see anything in front of me. The smoke was too thick and too aggravating. It wasn’t hot though. We were maybe 20-, 30 paces away from the primary fire exit (which is where we all thought of going).

I retreated.

Plan B. Plug the frame of the door with wet towels.

Marston took his towel, soaked it and put it under the door. I attempted to plug the sides, but we couldn’t find any masking tape.

Then we waited.

Our neighbors have direct access to the fire exit, but if we open the door, we know that the smoke would just go into our unit and would probably deny us access to clean air. It looked like there was not any immediate danger of fire and if we can keep the smoke out, we should be fine. We’re temporarily safe.

Inside our unit, it already smelled bad but the veranda gave us breathable air. We stuck to the windows and the veranda. While we were hanging out in the veranda, some of the tenants in the floors beneath us were poking their heads out their windows and asking about what happened. We told them the fire is in our floor (judging from the smoke, that’s what we thought), there’s heavy smoke in the hallway, and asked them to go down already if they can.

For the meantime, our roommate Gerry (who went to work) was calling every once in a while for updates. I called my girlfriend, Angel, to tell her that there’s a fire in our building, we’re locked up in our unit, but we’re currently safe and waiting it out. Mark, Deng and RD also called to ask how we are. I thought of calling my mother but decided against it. Mark asked who we were and our unit number.

I was feeling hungry, so I cut myself a protein bar to fend off the hunger. We joked about cooking bacon and surprising the firemen when they enter our unit and it smells like breakfast. Marston said we should’ve taken a selfie the few moments we were out in the hallway and posted it. In hindsight, it would’ve been funny and incredibly stupid if we actually did that. At the very least, it would’ve given me something interesting to post. #YOLO

Every once in a while, someone would check the hallway via the peephole. After some time, the wall opposing our door was visible again and we briefly considered going for it but decided against it.

After sometime, we heard knocking on other people’s doors.

JP peeped into the peephole and said he’s seeing firemen knocking on other people’s doors.

We strapped on our bags and prepared the towels again and we walked out into the hallway. The smoke was still heavy, not as heavy as the first time we went out, but it was still painful to be in. We waved to the firemen and they signaled via flashlight the way our.

I think I was the first in line, or the last. I thought the firemen sprayed luminescent stuff on the ground because there were trails that were white. JP later pointed out that there was no such thing. It’s just that the floor had so much ash on the floor that anywhere you step on clears the ash and makes it clean.

One of the firemen asked if there are any more people in that direction and because I didn’t know about the other units, I just said that our unit specifically has no more people inside. We made our way into unit UP-4, which was opened by the firemen to lead us to the fire exit facing south.

We made our way down the steps, one person per staircase at a time (because the fireman said so), 14 flights down. JP first, then Marston then me. The stairs were rickety and there were parts where you can only hold on to 1 railing at a time. I had to be extra careful because I was wearing slippers instead of shoes. My phone was ringing quite a few times.

The fire exit stopped at the 3rd floor, in one of the commercial units and we stepped out of one of their glass panels which was broken and cleared for exit. The floor was wet. There were a lot of men in fire retardant suits hustling. There was an English fireman that gave out orders in English with a heavy accent. A fire inspector, I think, was asking JP some questions and when I approached, he got our full names, contact number and unit number.

We stepped out of the front door. There was lots of people in front.

We met with Mark and Markus. Markus was staying in 1404 and was probably one of the first to go out and he helped with getting a lot of people out. He had lots of stories. Mine was boring in comparison. Mark gave our names and unit to the firemen that was coordinating the rescue.

It’s 1:20 PM and we’re officially safe from the fire. [1]

Lunch was Zark’s.

[1] I just checked my call logs right now and it looks like we got out 1:20 PM. It definitely felt longer than an hour though.