Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Beich Candy Factory Fire

Wednesday March 25, 2005 started as a typical work day. It ended though as anything but typical. I had just left work, and as I drove North on Veterans Parkway I noticed a dark thick plume of black smoke off to the West. I entertained the thought of detouring to check it out, but decided against it since I had to make a stop at Wal-mart to pick up stuff for supper. Besides, I didn't have my camera in the car, and I knew that I would have been kicking myself for not having it along had this been a photographic event. So I put it out of my mind and headed for Wal-mart.

When I came out after about 15 or 20 minutes, I noticed that the plume of smoke seemed even thicker and blacker than when I went in. I remember thinking to myself that maybe this was something to see. I got into my car and tuned the radio to WJBC, knowing that if it was newsworthy, they would mention it. Shortly after tuning in, the announcer stated that there was a large factory burning, and that the police were requesting that people stay away as the roads were getting congested, and the fire was becoming more intense. This was an indication to me that this was not just an ordinary fire, this was a BIG fire. I made the decision to get home as quick as I could, drop off the groceries, and collect my camera. I didn't want to miss out if this fire was as big as my mind was imagining it could be.

As it turned out, it was even BIGGER. Below is a sampling of the photos I took that day, clicking on an image will give you a larger version.


After fighting traffic for about half an hour, I finally found a place to park about a mile or so from the fire, and I started to walk. I was stunned by the size of the fire in the distance, and just kind of walked in a trance towards it. Then suddenly I heard "Hey Dave" and found myself in the company of some friends who also appreciated a BIG fire. I asked John, Grant and JT to pose with the fire, then bid them farewell, and pressed on for a closer view.

I had never seen a fire this BIG in all my life, and found it difficult to look away. I also found that I was not alone in this regard. I noticed as I got closer to the fire that there were perhaps 100 people or more standing and staring in silence.

As I walked amongst the crowd, it was obvious which ones had been standing there the longest, since the heat made many of them look sunburned.

Things really got crazy when the walls decided to fall. Suddenly the roar of the fire got louder and louder, people started to scream and to run. I too was taken back somewhat by the panic of those around me and began to retreat, but then the photographer in me told me to raise the camera and start shooting. I managed to capture a large burst of flame as it shot out from the collapsing walls, as well as a scared kid running for his life.

As the smoke from the collapse cleared away, I was able to peer into the belly of this angry beast.

I walked away with a heavy heart, I think that fire and I had made a real connection.

I miss that fire.

If you haven't seen enough of this fire and wish to see more, there is a photo montage here of this fire set to music that includes some of my pictures, as well as pictures from other photographers present that day.

I later Learned that this building had previously housed the Beich Candy Factory, and that the fire was fueled in a large part by the sugar solution soaked into the all wood floors throughout the building. The Factory was in operation from around 1900 until 1973 when production moved to a new facility. This fire was started by a 16 year old girl who was later arrested and charged.