Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Tale Of Two Fires

Public safety officials in Utica released the results of two separate fire investigations yesterday. The first case involved the cause of last week's spectacular fire at the Matt's Brewery. The Observer-Dispatch has the details:

A welding project sparked Thursday's multimillion dollar blaze at F.X. Matt Brewing Co., officials said Tuesday.

Chief Fire Marshal Raymond Beck said the welding being done on the bottling facility's second floor created so much heat that it melted a nearby conveyor belt.

As the conveyor continued to melt and burn, however, it did not create any visible flames, Beck said. The burning belt then caused cardboard and plastic six-pack bindings to catch fire roughly 10 feet from the welding area, he said.

The second case involved the April Fools Day fire that claimed the lives of four Utica residents. Sadly, it appears the fire was intentionally set:

Fire and police investigators concluded the April 1 fire that killed four people and destroyed 1138 Whitesboro St. was ruled incendiary, officials said today.

Fire and police officials, however, did not specifically call the fire “arson,” since that is a criminal charge. And nobody has been charged at this point, police said.

“We have not ruled anybody out as a suspect,” said Daniel LaBella, Utica public safety commissioner and interim police chief.

The two-story building in West Utica was a “safe haven” for the homeless, the mentally deficient or people disowned by their families over the past 20 years, owner Donna Marano of Cold Brook previously said.

The differences between the two blazes come down to a lot more than one being accidental and the other intentional.

Within hours of the Matt's brewery fire politicians from across the area, and the state, were pledging their support and offering heartfelt condolences to the Matt family and their employees. Officials estimate the blaze caused close to $10 million in damage, making it the most costly fire in Utica's history, but thankfully no one was injured and there was no loss of life.

At tomorrow night's Saranac Thursday street party thousands of people are expected to celebrate the brewery's survival. The Varick Street crowd will be treated to a special proclamation from Utica's Mayor honoring Saranac's tenth anniversary and the brewery's recovery. Local television and radio stations, along with reporters from the O-D, will be on hand to cover the festivities and many of them will be broadcasting live from the event. A full brace of politicians will be in attendance, offering a variety of speeches and presentations praising the Matt family, the brewery employees, and the public safety personnel that responded to the fire.

The community will congratulate itself for coming together after a tragedy and a good time will be had by all.

The scene on Whitesboro Street won't be nearly as inspiring. No band will be playing, there will be no massive crowd thronging the street, and no one will be giving speeches. In place of the garish crowd control barriers at Saranac Thursday there's only some torn and tattered police tape surrounding the burned-out shell of a building.

The Governor will not be sending a representative to this place.

There will be no announcements of grandiose plans to redevelop the site.

A photo-op will not be held.

If you stop by at the charred remains of 1138 Whitesboro Street tomorrow night you'll be able to hear the sound of the brewery celebration on Varick street. After all, it's only five blocks away. Roughly 600 meters, if Google Maps is to be believed.

But some distances can't be measured by the markers on a map. Even in this age of casual satellite reconnaissance there are places in a city that remain hidden, a terra incognita obscured by something far more blinding than darkness or clouds. A secret terrain that goes unmapped and unremarked, covered by a dark shroud that no camera or millimeter wave radar can penetrate.

They can look, but they cannot see.

Update: I need to make a correction. It's not true, as I implied, that Governor David Paterson will be sending a representative to the Matt's Brewery on Thursday. It was announced this afternoon that he's coming himself.

Update: Thanks to Strikeslip for the link and the kind comments.