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Burning down the house

A week ago yesterday, EPI, AAH and I all came rushing out of our respective rooms at approximately the same time. Reason: we’d all noticed an intense smell of burning. It was strong enough for us to believe it might be somewhere in the apartment, hence our immediate sense of panic.

The smell, however, came from the building opposite ours. Horrified, we stood at the kitchen window and watched as flames devoured a flat on the third floor. It was a bizarre experience, watching someone’s home burn like that. Fire can be beautiful, but in that instance it was terrifying. The flames were vociferous, sparing nothing. The window exploded, revealing a raging sea of fire inside.

Suddenly our sleepy neighbourhood – it was midnight – was transformed into a hub of activity. People came out of their homes, some pulling on coats over pyjamas. Everyone rushed down the street in the same direction, from where the flashing lights of police cars and fire engines could be seen. EPI and I were no exception – I wanted most of all to know if anyone had been hurt and couldn’t imagine going to sleep without knowing. AAH meanwhile implored us not to leave her alone in the house. Watching a catastrophe like that so close to home suddenly shatters your sense of safety.

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident. And the next day it transpired that a woman living in the flat had set the fire, herself. EPI, having gone out ahead of me, said he’d seen two people who looked like they were drugged being led to an ambulance. How immensely fortunate that the fire did not spread to neighbouring apartments.

Right now, at this moment, there are workers inside the flat, clearing the debris. I can see them at the window with masks on, throwing stuff down into a dumpster below. Out of the paneless window frame come the remnants of a life: blackened chairs, clothes, pictures, a printer, unrecognizable charred objects.

I know the woman who set that fire must have been severely ill. And yet, I cannot help but wonder what drove her to do it. Did she want to commit suicide? Purge the past? Annihiliate the present? Or was she just … cold?

Incredibly beautiful to look at. Bright sunsine, blue skies, minimal wind. But very cold and very dry. This is not good news here in Reykjavík in winter, as about half the cars on the road are on studded tires that tear up the asphalt and send small particles into the atmosphere that can lodge in people’s lungs and cause havoc. A growing problem, particularly in these times of global warming when the winters have become so unseasonably warm that there is hardly ever any snow or ice on the ground. Reykjavík, pristine and unpolluted? Sadly, not today. Current temps -7°C and sunrise was at 08.47 and sunset due for 18.36.



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