One of the old buildings at the corner of Carroll Street and All Saints, across from the Delaplane and the new parking deck, caught fire sometime on Wednesday afternoon. I could see its smoke all the way from my house, not long after I got home from work early in the evening. And when I went to the transit center to get my July train ticket, I had almost a ringside view.
The police blocked off parts of East, Carroll, South and All Saints Streets, detouring traffic and letting fire trucks and other emergency vehicles in. Of course, between the limited car flow and the gaper delay, traffic backed up pretty well on East Street from South to Patrick and beyond.
Firefighters from the Frederick city fire companies fought the blaze from All Saints and Carroll while other companies from surrounding areas of the county, including Mount Airy, Jefferson, Walkersville and Lewistown, provided fire-battling assistance and backup or stood at the ready nearby, several of them in the parking lot of the Delaplaine and the Social Services building.
Frederick residents gathered along the edges of the fire tape cordoning off the area, along both sides of the Carroll Creek linear park, and along the suspension bridge. People from the community stood at one end of the Community Bridge watching the firefighters beat back flames at the front of the burning building. Some gathered on the roof of the new parking deck, until authorities ordered them down, while others watched from the library balcony or the roof of the other parking deck. Nearly everyone took pictures – even members of the emergency crews while manning their perimeter posts or waiting for their orders.
Several worried aloud that it was the antique store across from Jeannie’s café. Some of the women had just been in the shop earlier that afternoon. But that wasn’t it. Many speculated about the identity of the building – everyone seemed to remember what building it was, but no one I overheard could recall what it housed. I even asked a couple of the police officers who were enforcing the fire line, and they couldn’t tell me either.
A helicopter hovered overhead – at a safe distance – but I couldn’t tell if it was for the news or the emergency crews. Firefighters on cranes aimed high-pressure jets of water at the smoke-billowing inferno from at least four directions, and as the wind shifted, sooty clouds and steam by turn engulfed them and wafted away. Some of the heavy smoke swirled and sank, rolling down Carroll Street, while flames spurted from the front of the building and the police evacuated everyone from the Community Bridge.
As the sun set, people began to wander home, while firefighters continued to pour hundred of thousands of gallons of water on the flames, apparently to contain it and keep it from spreading, since from my point of view, there would be no saving most of the building – the roof had already burned through and collapsed by this time.
I also realized as the sky darkened, that the power was out in the surrounding neighborhood. A swath starting somewhere south of Carroll Creek, over to the west side of East Street, down past South Street to somewhere on South Market, possibly to the School of the Deaf, extending west to Bentz Street lay cloaked in darkness. Police officers directed traffic through the inky intersections that remained open, while residents (now without functioning air conditioning or fans) perched on their front steps to enjoy the relative coolness outdoors, shone lights from their cell phones to illuminate the path for pedestrians trying to make their way home.
I’m truly heavy-hearted about this disastrous event, but somehow being witness to it and experiencing the interactions with my fellow residents -- we shared shock, fascination, and bewilderment, reassurances, information, and conversation and even guiding lights -- made me feel more a part of the community. I hope with all my heart that we can help rebuild and that the next community-making event will be a much more pleasant one.
See more photos here. (A Facebook album)
See more photos.