Southeast Raleigh Explodes!


Timing *is* everything.  Because "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" was checked
out at Blockbuster, Julie and I had our *own* adventure this afternoon
when Southeast Raleigh exploded shortly thereafter.  Tuesday evening,
early.  7:30 p.m., roughly.  August, hot, humid, and miserable; sweat
forming in the five seconds between air-conditioned car and Wake Forest
Road video store.  Tim Burton is the auteur in mind, what with all that
"Apes" hype and subsequent urge to watch "Pee Wee," "Beetlejuice," or
either of his "Batman" movies.  "Adventure" isn't available, grrrr, so
I rent Mr. Burton's second film, the Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, and Mi-
chael Keaton-starring "Beetlejuice."  (Don'tcha *hate* when that hap-
pens?)  But there's *second* Blockbuster near the house and Julie won't
be arriving for a few more minutes.  So there's still hope.  Five min-
utes later, crossing Highwoods on Capital, me glance at clock.  Hmmmmm.
No, better go straight home and meet Julie and *then* run to 'buster
#2.  I pull in and... she pulls in.  How convenient!  Help her unload
boxes, a bag of books, and a belated birthday present-- my very first
(photo) scanner!  Wohoo!-- and make a tough, hot August afternoon deci-
sion: stay inside that cool, cool kitchen or venture back outside into
Hell, even if it *is* just for a sec.  We opt for the latter.

Kick the cat back out, move the car (hers) to the street, and depart in
the direction of New Hope Church Road, via Ingram Drive, via Brentwood
Road.  (The author lives, like, in Brentwood.)  The radio's off, the
(fire and police) scanners are on, and we're each updating the other
about our day.  As we're approaching the intersection of Capital and
New Hope Church, the scanner squawks something about a downed power
line.  Then something about a transformer fire.  Then something about a
*power station* fire.  Huh!?!?  Small talk stops and ours ears tune to
the small, Radio Shack-brand speaker in the back.  Reports, now, of a
*large* fire.  "Full assignment" dispatched, e.g. three pumpers, one
aerial, one rescue, and a District Chief.  East Street and Martin Lu-
ther King Jr. Parkway.  [ Author's aside:  so, does *every* town in the
South have an MLK road?  Sure seems like it... ]  Moments later, Engine
3, the "first due" engine and still not arrived, calls for a "second
alarm."  What!?!?  And then *we* see what "Three" sees:  rising from
the center of the city, high-enough to be viewed above any of the Capi-
tal Boulevard buildings, a thick, rapidly rising cloud of very, very,
gray, black smoke.


Racing into town, now; Julie attempting to load a lone roll of film
into my camera (I usually carry more, for... for such emergencies),
Yours Truly plotting and re-plotting the optimal vehicular approach,
given the likelihood of police barricades, darkened stoplights, and a
certain someone's judgment-impairing adrenaline levels.  [ While also
frantically snapping shots of the smoke-filled skyline, adds the au-
thor's companion. ]  The objective's a painfully simple one: see and
photograph as much "cool stuff" as possible, without either (a.) imped-
ing any emergency workers or (b.) getting into *too* much trouble with
the scene-controlling cops.  (Julie gets yelled at thrice; I receive a
remarkable *zero* admonishments.  Must be my determined, hand-held-
scanner-in-one-hand-and-camera-in-the-other-and-what-a-geek demeanor.)
The traffic signals indeed *are* out on Dawson Street (or is it South
Saunders Street then?) and South Street.  Turn left on South, toward
Memorial Auditorium, and play round-the-block-roulette as confronted
(along with dozens of other drivers) with the first RPD roadblock.


Return to South Street, proceed *straight* past Memorial, one or maybe
two additional, and park on street in front of Shaw University.  We're
in Southeast Raleigh now, a side of town *far* less-frequented than
others, but today is crawlin' somethin' awful with the chaotic colli-
sion of curious drivers, scooping reporters, freelance photographers,
off-duty emergency workers, and local-living onlookers.  Not too men-
tion the odd, Hawaiian-shirt wearing rabid fire buff.  Julie follows
close, walking nearly as fast as I.  Two blocks later, reaching the
East Street perimeter, I'm yards ahead and eventually trot two farther
or maybe further blocks, to Chavis Park, passing the home-evacuating
police officer that subsequently turns Sweetie back.  (I don't stay
long at the park; the twenty-foot high flames are blocked by too many
trees.  And you can hardly see the fire trucks!)  Return to East, where
Julie and a double-dozen others are watching what's unfolding a mere
two blocks south.  It's a CP&L substation, fully involved, and, from
the radio traffic, requiring *foam* instead of water for extinguishing.
Four, six, or maybe eight "engines" are on the scene; as are "aerial
trucks," "Haz-mat," and a battalion of Battalion Chiefs.  (Well, more
like "command officers," as Raleigh really only has *one* Battalion
Chief.  But it's fun to write it that way!)

(news and observer)

The "foam truck" has been requested from Station 12, an older pumper
used for carrying foam canisters.  And, by 8:20 p.m., a foam-carrying
"crash truck" arrives from Raleigh-Durham International Airport.  By
that time, though, we've ducked and covered and tried to outwit police-
people as a *second* city block is evacuated in all directions.  We cut
through residential lots, pausing to join a television news crew on the
rear, third-story balcony of a house with one *heck* of a view.  (Com-
plete with residents exclaiming "when it first went off, it shook the
house.")  Our final, "primo spot" is the raised, hedge-trimmed corner
of a house directly on Martin Luther King, with a direct, bee-line,
you-couldn't-pay-for-a-better-bystander-spot view of the conflagration.
Two blocks-worth of fire trucks lined up.  Police cars everywhere, both
marked and none.  We're sweat-drenched, elbow-to-elbow with a couple
professional photographers snapping roll after roll, while unaware of
my utter hatred for having only twenty-four measly pictures *myself*.
The airport fire truck turns down a different street, damn, directed to
approach from another direction.  Ten, maybe fifteen minutes later, the
diesel-powered Oshkosh crash truck breaks the radio-broken silence,
roaring in proportional accompaniment to the deluge of watered-foam its
shooting at the "seat" of the fire.  (For a while, it seemed the fire
units were simply spraying "fog patterns" around the blaze, most likely
to keep the radiant heat from igniting any "exposures.")

Night's falling, now.  Sweat is stinging my eyes.  My handheld scanner
is beeping, the battery low.  Film's all gone.  And the flames, while
still admittedly awesome, appear slowly shrinking in size.  (Or *are*
they?  Turns out they're running low on foam-- both "on scene" and a-
vailable from the dozen-plus *other* engine companies in town.  By the
time we depart, at least one *county* fire department-- Durham Highway,
which has foam, 'cause it covers the airport area-- is offering assis-
tance.)  By 8:40, we're outta there.  News folk are swarming like ants,
with the *female* reports near-caricatures in their ultra-thin, ultra-
blonde, I'm-ready-for-my-close-up-Mr.-Deville glory.  ('Tis fun min-
gling with the masses, however, and listening to the various manners of
speech of the local-living residents reacting to both the emergency and
the emergency-responding news teams.)  Wearily-- and *warily*, 'cause
there ain't no sidewalks on the side of the street we're walking-- we
return to the car.  Julie reminds that she still hasn't had dinner.  I
dry myself off, plug the "handheld" into its cigarette-lighter adapter,
tune the car's now *three* scanners to the necessary radio channels,
and begin weaving through the hand-directed streets toward downtown.
Our destination, post-adventure?  Why, where *any* longtime Raleigh
resident would go after an "event," be it spectator sport, live music
concert, or your everyday, afternoon power-station explosion.  That's
right, we head to Kripsy-Kreme.  For hot doughnuts.  In August.   And,
no, it didn't make sense then, either, but they *sure* tasted good.

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros


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