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A Fire in the Night

Date Line: April 6, 2008 Boston, MA

Two little girls died in a house fire that broke out in the wee hours of the morning. Acia Johnson, 14, and her sister Sophia Johnson, 3 had their bedroom on the third floor of their parents' South Boston home. Their address is unimportant unless you knew them. They are representative of hundreds of children each year. Somewhere around 3 AM the fire became apparent. It would have smoldered or burned in the walls for a lot longer than that.

The Principle of Imminent Collapse was at work. Start with an old dwelling in a poor part of town, any town, any city in any (every) state of the US. Add to that people who cannot afford to pay their utility bills and plug in space heaters, burn candles and use ovens to heat the house when landlords fail to keep furnaces well maintained. Then put yourself and your children on the top floors of the dwelling and go to sleep. All of these conditions add up to a tragedy of "A Fire in the Night."

Older houses still have fuse boxes where you screw a fuse into a socket to protect the wiring from short circuits and overloads. Actually, my house still has a 60 Amp fuse box while the rest of the neighborhood has long since upgraded to circuit breakers and 200 Amp services to supply their energy-intensive lifestyles. I studied Engineering so I know why the fuse is only a 15 Amp fuse. I know not to put a 20 or larger fuse in the socket. This is not evident to every person who lives in this country. Many people are recent immigrants who never had electricity to be concerned with. They just don't know, and there is no one to teach them.

When the fuses keep blowing due to an overload, there is a temptation to up the Amperage of the fuse. When the larger fuses still blow, it has been known for people to put a penny in the fuse box and screw in the bad fuse. THAT stopped that pesky fuse blowing.

The lethality of fires is compounded by the fact that we have designed our homes to put us in the highest danger of death by sleeping on the upper floors and conducting our waking activities on the lower floors. We place our furnaces in the basements and sleep above them. We put our kitchens on the first floor and sleep above them too.

People smoke in bed when they are the most drowsy and sometimes do not get to the end of the butt before drifting off. Most times the coal goes out on its own. But every so often a family dies in a Fire in the Night, on the upper floors of their homes where jumping is a scary thing and children cower in closets.

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