My Two Encounters with Fire

Elio Delgado Legon

Casa con techo de guano. Foto:
House with a “guano” roof.  Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — I’ve had two unpleasant, nearly traumatic run-ins with fire in my life. The first time I was around 13 and lived in a house with a guano thatched roof, much like the surrounding houses, on a lot rented out by a landowner.

Some 80 meters behind my house lived a young couple, with a house like ours. Every day, they would leave the house to go to work. One afternoon, I don’t know how, the guano on the roof began to burn and, minutes later, the entire house was engulfed by flames.

My teenage curiosity took me close to the fire, where I could see it up close. All the while, I would cast a glance back at my own house, fearing a spark would fly over and land on my room. The crackling of the burning guano became imprinted in my brain and, even after the house had been burnt to the ground, I thought I could still hear it.

The fear that the same thing might happen to my house gripped me so strongly that I was unable to sleep that night, as, at every instant, I thought I could hear the crackling of the fire up above me.

I thought this trauma would last me only that night, but, the following nights, I would wake up again and again thinking I could hear the fire crackling up on the roof. I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep for who knows how long, until, finally, we moved to the rural school’s home where my father worked as a janitor. The fact it was a brick and concrete house made my fear of fire go away.

El periódico El Mundo. Foto:
El periódico El Mundo. Foto:

The second time I had an encounter with fire was on February 19, 1969, when a fire started by counterrevolutionary terrorists burned the El Mundo newspaper headquarters to the ground. This was a newspaper that had been published in Cuba since the beginning of the century and, at the time, was operating as a workshop where journalism students at the University of Havana were doing internships.

The night of the fire, I, a second year journalism student, was working at the newspaper archives, which housed the complete collection, from the first issue, and an enormous collection of photos.

When smoke began to come out of the air-conditioning vents, an alarm was sounded and we were told to head down the stairs and out onto the street. From there, I was able to see the fire, consuming everything. When the firefighters arrived, there was nothing left of the building, only what the people inside, who had already prepared nearly the entire newspaper for the next day, had managed to salvage.

In the early morning, with what we rescued, we headed over to the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, where the newspaper was completed and printed. Even with the fire, the newspaper was published that day. The fire was reported on the front page. The newspaper continued to be published until April 5, when its publication was discontinued.

The act of sabotage, carried out by unscrupulous and terrorist hands, deprived journalism students of a good place to practice their profession and the country of a reliable source of information and archive, which treasured parts of Cuban history since the early days of the Republic.

Those were my two encounters with fire and I hope I never have to go through that experience as well.

One thought on “My Two Encounters with Fire

  • Nice quaint little reflection. This is Elio’s strong suit. He should leave the political commentary to the grown-ups.

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