Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Sinkhole and a Chimney Fire

Our little neighborhood in the Sagene district of Oslo has been the subject of two newsworthy events within the past several days, both rather disconcerting. On Tuesday evening, a sinkhole about ten feet wide and fifty feet deep opened up in the road in front of a housing development right around the corner from where we live. Sinkholes seem to be a more common occurrence around the world now than they were before, or perhaps it’s just that they make the news more often these days, especially when they claim lives, as did the one in Florida in March 2013, when a house fell into a sinkhole that suddenly opened up, taking the owner with it (
The one in our neighborhood did not result in any casualties, luckily; the police and fire departments were on the scene immediately, and a geologist was called in for consultation. As it stood on Wednesday morning, road crews were busy working on it. Why it developed is a mystery, but it seems as though the combination of steady rain and recent roadwork contributed to its formation.

Sinkholes, whether they are on land or in the water, are scarily fascinating, as this link clearly demonstrates: They can also suck in whatever is near them in the space of seconds, as the following video depicts. In this case, the sinkhole devoured trees in Assumption Parish, Louisiana

Besides the sinkhole, our neighborhood also experienced a chimney fire on Wednesday evening. If you have never seen one, be glad that you haven’t. It’s a powerful reminder of how fast a fire develops, especially on a windy evening. The homeowners had clearly forgotten to clean their chimney before they lit a fire in their fireplace; whatever creosote and ash buildup that remained from previous use had obviously not been removed. I was watching TV in my living room when suddenly I noticed that the sky outside had become foggy. Within seconds there was a blanket of fog outside. And the fog was moving and blowing about, since Wednesday night was quite windy. But then the fog got thicker and darker, and I knew that it was smoke from a fire and not fog. I looked out the window and saw where the smoke was coming from—the chimney of one of the houses right across the street from where we live. As I watched, the smoke got even darker, billowing out of the chimney, followed by fire that leapt up out of the chimney. At that point, I ran to get my phone to call the fire department, but then I noticed that there were people in the house. I could see them through the windows, and I wasn’t sure if they knew their chimney was on fire. I decided instead to knock on their door and let them know, but when I got there, there were already people who had had the same idea, and who had called the fire department as well. The firemen arrived very quickly, and set about putting out the fire. Two of them made it onto the roof, and lowered down a device called a fire scrubber into the chimney, which by this time was spitting out glowing embers of quite some size. The fire scrubber removes the burning creosote by scraping the sidewalls clean; this took some minutes but it worked.

One thing is certain; had the roofs been made of wood, they would have caught fire. Luckily, they were Mediterranean-style clay tile roofs. However, the houses they sit atop are often old wooden houses that do burn rapidly and effectively if they catch fire, unfortunately. Watching what transpired was a reminder of how quickly accidents and disasters can happen. In the case of the sinkhole, no one could have really predicted that it would have happened, but with the chimney fire, it’s clear that it could have been prevented if the homeowners had remembered to clean their chimney before using the fireplace. 

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