Saturday, May 21, 2016

Waking up to a Fire

{busy watching Coco}

This morning I had just woken up with Lucia at 5:30am and heard my cell phone ring. It was my neighbor calling to let us know that the abandoned house across the street was on fire and that she had called the fire department and police. My first thought was, oh no, our mango tree! This piƱa mango tree is the most amazing tree, producing so much, I just couldn't imagine it going up in flames. Last year a friend lost a large tree in their yard, so that was fresh in my mind. I walked upstairs and could see flames shooting out of the windows, everything inside was on fire. You could hear glass jars exploding and breaking. Seeing a cement house burn is so different than a wood-built house. I wondered how long it would take for the firetrucks to arrive, since it took them 1 1/2 hours to come last fall, when a telephone/electrical pole was on fire from a lightening strike just down the street. Well, I guess a house is higher up on their list. They came in about 15 minutes and pretty much just watched it burn. The flames never reached up to the mango tree or the palm tree behind the house. They finally knocked out a door and sprayed some water after a while. Ben and the kids walked up to the bakery for bread and milk and bought pastries for the firemen. Just as the firemen drove away, they came back. What? Two boxes of pastries for the kids? Maybe not. We shared with our neighbor.

This abandoned house is not unusual in Puerto Rico. With so many people leaving for the US, this is happening more and more. The elderly man that owned the house died and his heirs live in the US and don't want the house. So, it just keeps racking up unpaid property taxes and decays in the tropical climate. Unfortunately, most houses are made of cement, like this one and won't fall apart with time. Property taxes all go to the central government, not local city governments. This compounds the problem because the local governments do not have an incentive to go after delinquent properties.

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