Sofia and I stumbled upon a serious house fire this morning on the way to the metro station.
Tibet Street is lined with skyscraper buildings on one side and traditional two-story shop front/dwelling buildings on the other. We were walking up the shop front side when we came across a small crowd of people shouting.
We had no idea what they were shouting at, but a woman ran to one of the shop fronts, gesturing for the shopkeeper to get on the phone. Initially, we thought there had been an altercation or possibly some kind of theft.
However a lick of fire suddenly shot out of one of the windows above the shop front. The building was made from brick and wood and we immediately thought it could get out of hand. (In this photo taken from our hotel room, you can see Tibet Street just on the left-edge of the picture and the tightly packed housing where this incident took place)
Within about 30 seconds the front of the building was completely on fire, with thick black clouds of smoke billowing out from the windows. By now a large crowd had formed, and although somewhat voyeuristic, we decided to stay as we wanted to observe how the Shanghainese deal with an emergency situation.
Within 4 minutes of the shopkeeper calling the fire bridge, we could hear sirens approaching from the North. Alarmingly, however, someone suddenly came to the window at the front of the building, which was now totally engulfed with flames. The wooden window opened but the person was beaten back by the fire. At this point I certainly felt troubled by what I was watching – clearly this was a life or death situation for at least one person who was in there.
Almost instantly three modern and well equipped fire trucks roared onto the scene. Firemen jumped from the trucks and immediately sprang into action. Police on motorbikes also arrived, who quickly stopped the traffic from passing to allow the fire brigade room to work.
Everyone was very calm, both the professional emergency workers and the crowd, which I don’t think would have been the case if this had been in London.
Within seconds, ladders were up against the shop front, and hoses were spraying the front with water. Firemen with breathing apparatus, axes and hoses were at the top of the ladders, spraying more water into the inside of the building.
At this point we decided to move to the other side of the street. Police were moving people away from the parameter of the incident. I decided to take some pictures from across the road, but only to capture the atmosphere of the scene – not the horrific incident itself. Unfortunately another Western guy thought differently, and was filming everything with his video camera as if it was some kind of tourist show. Despicable.
- The crowd – everyone from office workers to constructions workers, smartly dressed affluent middle class Shanghainese to the poor, everyday street workers – all gather together on the street to watch the events unfold.
- Fire truck – modern and well equipped.
- The scene – with the fire extinguished, you can clearly see the wooden front of the building, and how tightly packed everything is.
- The police brief the military – to right of the group of police officers is an official dressed in a green shirt with red tabs on his shoulders. As I understand it, these guys are military officers and you occasionally see them walking around the streets of Shanghai – one of the few tangible reminders of China’s overruling state control.
Unfortunately we don’t know the outcome of the fire, but we hope that no-one was killed or seriously hurt. If I hear anything, I’ll update this post.