Nestled in bed, here in Wallingford, I awoke to the sound of sirens — and a lot of them.
At 7:12am, a firefighter’s shift was just wrapping up when a call came into the Seattle Fire Department — he knew the address — this would be the third time he was called to an abandoned house on 5th Avenue NE and 40th Street to put out a potentially deadly fire. I spoke to firefighters once the blaze was safely contained and they described the scene inside the home. At first they thought it was the home of a hoarder, but they quickly realized it was filled with loot and occupied by squatters. The unhoused neighbors squatting in this abandoned house had likely started a fire for warmth and may have been in the house when it grew out of control. A neighbor who has lived up the street for 20 years told me that the house next door had hired an “armed guard” and another neighbor shared that the owner of the empty house had it boarded up and had hired security, but that they continued to see squatters come and go with propane tanks and items taken from neighboring homes and yards.
A man, who lives right across the street remarked that he hoped the squatters got out in time and without too much smoke inhalation. He described that the heat from his front stoop, across the street was hot and strong — like being right in front of a roaring firepit — he couldn’t imagine what it was like right there in that house. And yet, I saw the next door neighbor casually emerge from his home an hour into the blaze. Still in his pajamas, he took a seat on his front porch, while firefighters blasted hoses from his roof. I was worried his house would catch fire too, being so close the one in flames, and I was shocked he didn’t evacuate, but the neighbors said “He is used to this and SPD is really competent”.
People milling about shared sentiments of remorse for how the neighborhood has changed over the years — of the homeless encampments and the multi-million dollar homes comingling in unfair juxtaposition. One neighbor, who has lived within two miles of his this home, all his life said he wasn’t giving up. He said he didn’t blame anyone who has come into Wallingford — the squatters or the people “who can afford to live a couple blocks over” — he said he grieved these changes at first, but has gotten over that. He still has pride in his community.
Neighbors clapped and thanked the firefighters, who walked from the scene looking fully exerted after a job well done. One firefighter who had worked all through the night declared that it was “Miller time” and a woman instructed him to “Have two, you’ve earned it”.
-Special thanks to Betty and Brett (neighbors and new friends), who kept me company early this morning while I grabbed these cell phone pictures. The best thing we can do in times like this is to come together in support of our community.