More Fires

It has been a busy holiday season for landmarks in the Chicago area, but that is not surprising.

If you want to spring a landmark surprise/demolition gambit like the Berghoff, it is best to do it over the holidays when fewer people are paying attention.

Fires are also more likely to happen in winter, even a ridiculously mild one, although the big fires lately were avoidable – the reports today on the bargain-basement roofers who ran away from the fire that destroyed Pilgrim Baptist Church are maddening.

Blair Kamin’s article calling for the restoration of Pilgrim Baptist (reconstruction really) on Sunday was also welcome and echoed what I said two blogs ago. We are going to get our students together once school starts next week to discuss this.

Then there was the sloppy arson fire at the Frank Lloyd Wright Wynant House in Gary last week. Do you recall that one of our SAIC historic preservation students discovered that house back in 1996? Chris Meyers – he apparently went over after the fire and even the soggy lawn was scorched. Can you say accelerant?

There was also a fire at the Bradley House in Kankakee – what many consider Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Prairie House. Not life-threatening, but still of great concern.

Fires often happen when buildings are being rehabbed. Wright’s Hills-DeCaro House in Oak Park, 1976, Adler & Sullivan’s Brunswick factory in Chicago, 1989. One reason can be like Pilgrim Baptist, where undertrained workers are careless with torches. It is also common on home rehabilitations when people use things like heat guns to remove paint. One of those destroyed the 1835 Fiddyment House in Lockport back in 2000. Something underneath catches fire, invisibly.

The trick is that heat sources don’t need to actually catch things on fire – they can heat up a surface or some old newspaper in the wall crevices and next thing you know an invisible fire has found an internal chimney and is ready to blaze fast, like the buildings during the Great Fire of 1871 that caught at once all over, like a piece of paper held near a flame….

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