“There’s a lawsuit here,” groused a toothless gentleman wandering up N.W. 2nd Court as tan smoke billowed through the alleys between the neighborhood’s small pastel houses. He took a drink from a tall can of beer and gestured towards the burning asbestos warehouse to the west. “This shit ain’t no good.”
And then he was gone.
Half a block later, a stooped woman named Denise Gray made her way towards N.W. 17th street by leaning, alternately, on a cane and a chain link fence. She stopped to stare at the gray and red concrete walls, the small circus-like tent of firefighters and the tremendous plume of potentially harmful smoke. Gray is sixty-five, suffers from asthma and Kidney disease –surgical scars line her forearms and shoulders.“I’m a dialysis patient,” she said. She has lived in a yellow apartment building on the corner of 18th street and NW 1st Court for four years and was surprised to wake up this morning to the “meat packing plant” across the street exploding. Soon afterwards, FP&L cut power to her building and she was left to wander the streets sucking ice cubes out of a turquoise juice cup. She could not make out the edges of her building, a half block away, through the terrible smoke. Gray smiled and continued past a man in a wife beater and a Jamaican accent. He refused to give his name, but he said he’d left his job downtown just to come and watch the fire. “Just like you,” he said.
Police and Firemen had sealed off the perimeter entirely. City of Miami spokesman Delrish Moss and Miami-Dade firefighter’s spokesman Iggy Carrol sat side by side in the cab of an air-conditioned Chevy Tahoe. The handsome flacks (who are cousins) spoke jovially to far off members of the media, while trying to negotiate some sandwiches for the 90 rescue workers at the scene with a petite Red Cross representative in the back seat. Food would be three hours away.
It had been a long morning for the pair. The blaze began when a trio of welders working on the building’s roof ignited some of the building’s insulation. They tried to battle the flames, but, soon enough it had gotten out of control and they ran to a nearby fire station. Fire fighters entered the building which had been built with a truss roof (the very same design that claimed nine firefighters recently in North Carolina) but it collapsed after the explosions. By the time Moss arrived at 9:30 the heat had caused refrigeration units inside to explode, “rocks the size of [his] head” to shoot up to a block away. A spider-web crack in the Tahoe’s windshield attested to his claim.
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“It was like asteroids,” said Carrol. “Everyone took shelter in their vehicles.” Rocks smashed windows in nearby Phillis Wheatley Elementary School – Miami Dade School Police were summoned to evacuate a few teachers. By 10 am, FP&L shut down power to the area leaving a number of local residents trapped in elevators.
At eleven thirty, the massive fire-fighting effort continued dumping water onto the smoke. “The fire’s contained,” said Carrol soon after learning that one of his men had collapsed from heat exhaustion. “But it’s not under control yet. Not at all.” -- Calvin Godfrey