Sunday, June 8, 2014

Where there's smoke there's fire

Last Wednesday June 4th was another international first for me: I was evacuated from my job due to a fire.

So what happened?

It was about 1:30 in the afternoon, and I was in one of my student's offices going over his homework.  One of his coworkers came to his door and mentioned that there had been a fire in the building next door.  My student asked if we had to evacuate, and he said that we didn't but if anything changed that he would let us know.

Well, a few minutes later we had to evacuate.

I gathered up my teaching materials and headed outside with my student.  There were lots of small groups of people standing around in the plaza behind La Moneda (the presidential palace), and everyone was looking up at the smoke billowing from the top of the building.  The building was the ministry of foreign affairs, and there is also a bank there.


If there's an emergency, my boss has a designated meeting spot.  It was covered in smoke, however, so my student and I waited on the corner of Moneda and Teatinos, which was the corner furthest away from the fire.  He was worried about losing progress, so I continued to talk with him about English grammar for a bit, and then we chatted about the World Cup.  After a bit he told me that he was hungry and was going to get something for lunch, so I wished him a good day.

A few minutes later, my cell phone rang.  My boss told me that she was on the other side of the building with the other teachers, so I headed over there.  We obviously weren't going to get back into the building any time soon, so she suggested that we all go out for coffee to pass the time.  

One of the teachers had her wallet with her, so she paid for us and then our boss paid her back.  After about 45 minutes, She told us that there was no way that we would be getting back into the building to teach classes and that we could go home.  There was only one problem for me, though.

My wallet with my ID card, BIP card (to ride the bus and subway), and bank card were all inside.  
Whenever something like this happens my boss always locks the door, so I wasn't worried about anything getting stolen.  I just didn't know how I would get home or if I'd get my wallet back that day.

My boss told me that she could ask someone to lend me money so that I could get a taxi home or buy a new BIP card.  She took me up to one of the buildings that wasn't evacuated and introduced us to each other and explained my situation.  After he graciously lent me $10.000 pesos (about $20), we got a phone call that they were letting people back into the building to collect their things.  I was relieved, as I wasn't looking forward to the prospect of taking the bus or subway while balancing whiteboards, a bag of markers, and my tablet in my hands during the whole ride.  

We made our way to the front of the building, and there were a ton of people crowded around the entrance.  They were pressing up against it, as they were only allowing people in in small groups.  In a situation like that there were understandable safety and security concerns.  While people were anxious to get inside to retrieve their things and were very close together, there wasn't the pushing and shoving that I have become accustomed to on the buses and subway during rush hour.

As we walked in, we could smell the smoke in the hall.  It didn't make it into the office, but I know other people whose offices and belongings were closer to the fire and consequently smelled of smoke for a day or two afterwards.

Everyone that worked in the evacuated buildings were sent home for the day, and so I was done at 3:00.

The fire was big news in Santiago, mainly because it happened inside one of the ministries and also because it was so close to La Moneda, the presidential palace.  

If you're interested in seeing a video or reading about it in Spanish, click here to see a report from a national TV station.  Even if you don't understand Spanish you can see the video.

I was very grateful that it hadn't been worse.  As far as I know no one was hurt, and all of the safety precautions that they use for emergencies functioned perfectly.  Apart from a fire when I was almost too young to remember I had never been evacuated from anywhere because of a fire.

I've made a resolution to update twice a month, so you can expect to check in more often and see what else is happening.  Happy Sunday everyone!


  1. Que tengas un bello domingo Daniel :)

  2. It sounds like quite an ordeal! I'm glad everything worked out in the end.