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TOPIC: The Weekend from Hell

The Weekend from Hell 04 Apr 2005 01:22 #20486

  • RoxyVaudeville
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No this is not the name of the movie playing currently. It's posted here On the Sidewalk as that is where I've spent much of this weekend.

This weekend we here in eastern Pennsylvania were, as much of the east was, inundated with torrential rains followed by much flooding. However, here in Northampton we only experienced a few street closings near the river. No buildings to my knowledge were affected by floodwaters. Actually the rain was somewhat of a blessing as it followed something just the opposite. FIRE!

As we are playing The AVIATOR this week with a running time of nearly 3 hours, I only ran one evening show each night at 7 PM. Therefore, the show left out about 9:55. On Friday evening about 10 minutes after the house was cleared, I was in the outer lobby setting up a portable poster frame for a one sheet for our Saturday matinee show, when I heard the phone ring. I thought that as I would never make it to the office in time, I might as well not even try to answer it. I then heard a voice from my office and realized that someone was leaving a message on the machine, and obviously wanted to talk to me, so I headed to the office only to have them hang up just as I entered. I played back the message... it was my brother who lives about 20 miles away. He said: "Is everything OK there? I hear that there is a major problem somewhere near you". I think to myself... what is he talking about? I'm not aware of anything. I immediately go out side and look up the street, and see nothing. I look down the street... nothing. No cars, no people... nothing. But wait, I do see something. It looks like smoke coming from the building three doors down from the theatre. I walk down the alley next to the theatre to get to the back walkway that will take me to the building that appears to be smoking. Oh my god, the rear is completely engulfed in flames! How is it that this building is burning and nobody is around, yet my brother 20 miles away is aware of something? I run back to Main Street and at that moment I hear sirens coming from both directions. Police cars, fire trucks... all coming, descending upon the scene.

The structure burning is a two story frame building housing five storefronts. The fire is on the 2nd floor above the center store. The next building to the north is a single story brick building only one foot from the burning building. Next to that is another two story frame building two feet from it. Then the alley, and then the theatre.

The first reports are saying that the fire is at the Roxy Theatre. People start coming downtown. The telephone doesn't stop ringing... is it true? is the theatre ok? what's happening? I put a message on the machine saying that as of now we are not involved. I can't take the time to continue answering. I'm thinking about what to try to save if it comes to that.

The fire is spreading throughout the 2nd floor over the 5 stores quickly. The firemen are afraid that it will collapse onto the roof of the one story brick building and then rapidly spread to the next two story frame one. The alley would then separate the theatre from the fire.

Everyone from all the apartments in all the buildings in that block are evacuated. I offer the lobby as shelter to those who want it, as long as the fire doesn't come closer. As I stand under the marquee watching the fire a fireman passes by and assures me "we won't let the fire get to this theatre". I hope that he is correct.

The fire chief calls in 6 alarms requesting aid from all surrounding communities. I had never seen so may fire trucks or firefighters except during the annual firemans parade. Three large aeriel ladder trucks, and about 15 other pieces of equipment as well. Their assignment was to block the fire from the mentioned buildings to the north and to a church immediately to the south. The stagehouse of my theatre was lost in a dense cloud of black smoke. I thought to myself, what if sparks are falling on my roof, as it's a built-up pitch (tar)roof. A crowd was forming and a fire zone was roped off with no one permitted within. Everyone must now leave the theatre, plus the power has just gone off. They move up the street to a resturant that stays open to house them. I return to the theatre and am told that I must leave as well. I tell the fire woman that as captain of my ship, I must go down with it and go inside, and up onto the roof to look for sparks or embers. The firemen are on the roof of the next building and I'm thinking... if only there was a way to wet down MY roof. And then it happens, slowly at first, but then more papidly... RAIN! just like in the movies... just in the nick of time. It's pouring, it's WONDERFUL... my roof, everyones roves... all wet, safe from embers and sparks.

The firemen do a miraculous job, along with help from mother nature. The fire is contained. No other buildings are involved beyond smoke damage. By 3:00 AM, the burning building has been reduced to a smoldering mass of rubble. The 2nd floor front has fallen onto Main Street. Most of the fire units are set home. A few stay behind to wet down and monitor the remains. I feel safe to finally go home myself. My auto had been a prisoner within the cordoned off section, and now I can get it out and try to go get some sleep. (didn't get much)

Saturday morning the power has been restored to the neighborhood and I feel confident that I can open as usual. I run the air-conditioning for several hours that morning to try and rid the building of the smell of smoke. Only a faint smell remains at this time, except back stage where it doesn't really matter for now. I post on the website and send out a special edition of the newsletter to let everyone know that we still exist and are open as usual. Dozens and dozens of phone calls and e-mails come in expressing relief that the theatre is fine. Everywhere I went this weekend people expressed their concern for the theatre and myself. My wife and I went out for dinner Saturday evening before the show, somewhere well out of town, and even there people came up and expressed their relief that we had come through unharmed.

I have received many various awards from the community over the years, but never have I felt so appreciative then I do now from the tremendous show of support that the community affirmed for the theatre this weekend.


See the fire @ http://www.cyberdreamdesign.com/kroope/kroope.html




[This message has been edited by RoxyVaudeville (edited April 04, 2005).]
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Re: The Weekend from Hell 04 Apr 2005 05:37 #20487

  • outaframe
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WOW, now THAT gets your immediate attention, huh?... Glad your building made it through unscathed, Roxy!... I can empathize as I have had 2 similar close calls, and know how helpless and vulnerable you felt while all this was going on...

One nice Spring (Sunday) evening in 1973 I had opened the boxoffice and admitted several customers when two fire engines came roaring up the street and stopped in front of the bar/restaurant 2 doors away from my building... I went out on the street and could see heavy black smoke rolling from that building... Just as soon as he had a spare moment, I asked the Fire Chief if I should close down and if they would be cutting off the power to my building... He replied that the fire was so far being contained to the kichen area of the restaurant and that he felt it would be safe for me to go ahead, that they wouldn't be cutting off my power for now, but would let me know if the situation changed... I held up my normal start time for about 10 minutes, and checked with him again, then started the movie... Just another normal night except for lots of excitement and anxiety on my part!...

About 10 years ago on a bitterly cold New Years Eve, I had been re-upholstering some seats during the afternoon, and had gone home for dinner and to change to go in for the evening showing... I had been home for only about 15 minutes when a friend called to tell me that the sporting goods store diagonally across the alley from the theater was on fire... I rushed back uptown and there were fire engines everywhere... All of the city's equipment was out there, along with units from 3 surrounding communities... There were sparks and embers blowing over on my roof, as well as most of the rest of the buildings in the block, and people were loading records and other stuff out of surrounding buildings into vehicles... I have a hatch for access to my roof from inside the building and spent most of the evening on my roof to be certain nothing spread the fire to my building... They finally contained the fire, but the 2 story building where the fire started and an adjoining 3 story building were total losses, and a one story building on the other side of the source of the fire had its roof collapsed by the weight of the ice which formed from the fire hoses wetting it down... It was a thoroughly miserable evening and I was chilled to the bone by the time I felt it safe to get in off my roof, but was thankful that the wind wasn't any stronger and glad that my building hadn't suffered any damage... Needless to say, there was no movie that night!...

P.S. <> I forgot to mention the ironic part of all this: the building where the fire started had been a movie theater from the mid-1930's through the late 1950's, and was operated by the same chain as my theater at that time...

[This message has been edited by outaframe (edited April 04, 2005).]
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Re: The Weekend from Hell 04 Apr 2005 08:41 #20488

  • Mudbrother
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An incredible story, Roxy. I'm glad that both you and your theatre are safe.
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Re: The Weekend from Hell 04 Apr 2005 09:41 #20489

  • John Pytlak
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So glad that the Roxy survived:
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/police/all-4fireapr03,0,4511761.story

"A large section of Northampton's Main Street will have to be demolished after a fire Friday ripped through a vacant building that included five empty storefronts, borough Fire Chief Bob Solderich said.

However, firefighters who battled the blaze for nearly six hours kept the flames from reaching the 85-year-old Roxy Theatre and the Zion Lutheran Church that set just four feet from the gutted building.

Another vacant building sitting just two feet from the burned build also was relatively unscathed.

Solderich said the fire started near the rear of the building, but that further investigation will be needed to determine the cause. However, the investigation can't be done until some of the unstable walls of the devastated building are taken down.

The church sustained some minor water damage, but none of the other buildings were damaged by fire, the Solderich said."


John P. Pytlak, Senior Technical Specialist
Customer Technical Services
Entertainment Imaging
Research Labs, Building 69, Room 7525A
Eastman Kodak Company
Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Telephone: +1 585-477-5325 Cell: +1 585-781-4036 Fax: +1 585-722-7243
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Website: http://www.kodak.com/go/motion
John P. Pytlak, Senior Technical Specialist
Customer Technical Services
Entertainment Imaging
Research Labs, Building 69, Room 7525A
Eastman Kodak Company
Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Telephone: +1 585-477-5325 Fax: +1 585-722-7243
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Website: http://www.kodak.com/go/motion
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Re: The Weekend from Hell 04 Apr 2005 09:57 #20490

  • Ken Layton
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Your brother probably found out about the fire from listening to a police scanner like I do. I've got 4 of 'em and at least one is on all the time (my Uniden Bearcat BC-8500).
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Re: The Weekend from Hell 04 Apr 2005 11:32 #20491

  • jimor
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Richard, I am very relieved that your splendid ROXY went unscathed, and I am glad that you took the time to share this good story with us. We wish it were fictional, but sometimes fact is even more interesting than fiction. I hope that your major domo, Todd, was not in the jepordy that you thought you were in. The account on your site makes him seem an exceptional manager.

Otaframe, you also had a close call, and it is good that nothing came of it, except the miserable conditions and fright that you and all others concerned naturally went through.

I guess that this is an example of why it is good to have a water pipe with hose bib extended up to the roof and a reliable means of getting onto the roof be provided. As we all get older, scuttles and hatches are not the best bet; better to extend stairs up there and possibly they would be able to enclose the water pipe against frost damage. In the CINEMA DESIGN forum I talk about the benefits of an aluminum 'Super-roof' and perhaps that is nowhere more evident than in these cases where fire embers could ignite organic roofings. The embers would simply slide off of a pitched metal roof. How many ounces of prevention is this 'pound' of cure?
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: The Weekend from Hell 04 Apr 2005 21:36 #20492

I'm so glad that you and your theatre are alright!
Since 1987
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