Smoke poured out of a window on the first floor and from another on the second. One fireboat had already arrived, and firemen looking like giganti in their coats and helmets shouted instructions to each other. Another fireman taped off the fondamenta so no one could enter the scene of the fire. Residents huddled off to the right, one of them clutching her cat, which she had just scurried into the building to rescue.
At 11:30 at night, I was just returned from the Campo di San Giacomo dell’Orio and rounded the corner of the Church of Sant’Angelo Raffaele in Dorsoduro. I smelled the smoke first, then heard the shouting and saw the crowds gaping at the clouds of gray smoke. Six buildings away stood the apartment I was staying in. It didn’t seem safe to just go in and close the door when a fire had broken out so close.
Soon a second boat arrived. Firemen hooked up hoses. I was trying to see where they connected them. Do they just stick one end into the canal and suck up the water? I couldn’t tell from the opposite side of the canal from where they worked. But soon excess water was pouring out the ground floor door. That smokey smell was beginning to permeate my clothing.
I texted Alessia, the woman I was renting from, to let her know what was happening. Though it was midnight, I thought she’d want to know, particularly if things suddenly grew worse. I thought of these ancient buildings and how many times I had seen unprotected wires protruding from walls or wrapped around pipes, cables dangling, or wire ends sticking out a hole in the wall. It dawned on me what a vast fire trap Venice is. Why doesn’t it burst into flames daily?
Alessia got my text but didn’t seem too worried. I texted the friends I had just left, and B and Laura offered their couch if I couldn’t return to my place. Smoke continued to billow out the two windows and now out the door. I could hear the firemen’s respirators from where I stood. A dozen of us waited in front of the church, unable to walk away from the sight of firemen at work.
While waiting, I struck up a conversation with the man standing next to me. Lorenzo was in Venice to assist a friend with a concert the next day, a Norwegian choir performing at the Salute and the Basilica San Marco. Would I be interested to attend? Discussing singing, and our mutual love for Venice, felt surreal while smoke ascended and firemen called out to each other.
After about 45 minutes, the smoke had abated and the fire seemed under control. I felt safe enough to head to bed. Lorenzo and I parted ways, and I reassured Alessia with a text saying that her building didn’t seem to be in danger.
I learned from Alessia later that the fire was started by a forge on the ground floor. This danger is why the iron forges used to be isolated on the ghetto island and the glass furnaces were moved to Murano centuries before. Buildings are not made primarily of wood any longer, but fire will still eat them.