Well, the other night, I watched a DC institution burn to the ground.
My roommate and I were having a beer on the back patio when the sirens started. Neither of us thought much of it, but as they blared on longer and longer and seemed to stay unusually close by, we began to get curious. Moments later, roomie handed me his phone, and exclaimed "Frager's is on fire!"
Indeed, the tweeted picture on the screen showed Frager's hardware store with smoke pouring from its rooftop. The sheer number of sirens in the area made it clear that this wasn't some burnt bagel or a spark in a trash can. Frager's was burning down.
As a reasonably intelligent human being, my first instinct was obviously to try and get as close to the blaze as possible. Whatever, I needed to get to the grocery store anyway and at roughly four blocks from my apartment, the disaster zone was basically on my way.
Even though I was already close by, being on the bike made getting there easier than it probably should have been. The police sentries outside the Capitol seem to be the only law enforcement officers in DC who have figured out how to keep cyclists out of places they don't want them. Everyone else either doesn't notice us, can't effectively block us off, or doesn't consider us a threat, any of which I'm fine with. I swung wide around a halfhearted emergency cordon, zipped down an alleyway, dodged a couple of fire trucks, and joined a crowd of my Hill neighbors outside a CVS. I had wondered if the worst would be over by the time I got there, since I always manage to be a latecomer to this kind of thing. I was almost hoping it would be over, and that everything would fine.
|Can't see the building? Yeah, neither could we.|
As the moments wore on, though, it only seemed to get worse. At one point, flames started jumping up from the roof:
When the wind would shift, you could catch a glimpse of one of the ladder crews through the smoke:
|I have no idea how I made this into a .gif.|
|I'm no photographer, but it IS him.|
And proceeded calmly up the sidewalk to confer with other leaders and news media probably only 50 feet from the fire.
|Middle ground, white shirt.|
Having absorbed enough collective shock and anguish for one evening, I resolved to take the metaphorical lemons and make some literal lemonade.
After hopping back onto Winona the Kona and going to Harris Teeter for a citrus juicer that I really would rather have bought at Frager's (sigh,) I met a Long Time Resident who said he had been inside when the fire broke out. All the staff and customers got out safely, he said, but it took "a real long time" for the firefighters to get on the scene. Had I bought any salt on my errand, I would have taken his words with some of it (BAM!) because time tends to stretch and bend in a situation like that, so it's tough to tell how long the fire trucks actually took to show up. I'm sure it seemed like an eternity, though.
Reportedly, it was about 10:00 PM before the last ember died, some three to four hours after the the fire began. CM Wells called the event "devastating," and cast the store as a "family member" that the entire community would stand behind and support. Institutions, after all, are about people and ideas, not buildings or physical spaces. And in one of the frequent displays of just why Capitol Hill is such an amazing place to live, two charities that have very effectively focused community support during past tragedies past have come together to take donations and plan fundraisers, calling themselves "Friends of Frager's."
I think we're all going to be amazed by the efforts mounted to save this institution in the coming weeks. Frager's is gone, but not what it represents. So farewell for now, Frager's, we'll be seeing you again soon.
I guess I'd better go hit that donation link.
I don't know where you're going, but do you got room for one more troubled soul?