Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fear of Fire

Tom Kelly IV/Daily Local News

Like everywhere else, Chester County, PA is a study of contrasts. The storied Main Line terminates in Paoli. The Devon Horse Show, Radnor Hunt and countless equine farms celebrate the horsey set (think Kentucky Derby Winners Smarty Jones and the tragic Barbaro). Longwood Gardens, nestles like a jewel in our signature rolling green hills.

Phoenixville rises from the ashes of its lost steel industry, transformed into a funky restaurant/coffee house/bar/shop/gallery burg. Another abandoned steel mill in Great Valley is morphing before our eyes into the high-end manufactured community of “Uptown Worthington.” Meanwhile, Coatesville, a small, economically-challenged city now has more to worry about than an insufficient tax base, lagging schools, and political corruption.

Coatesville is on fire.

It’s not a California wildfire tracked back to carelessness. It’s not Centralia, with its weird, forty year-old mine fire that no one can extinguish. Coatesville is on fire, because an arsonist is at work amid the tightly packed row houses. Over 30 fires have been set since 2008, more than half in the past month (15 homes were lost in the fire last week shown in the above photo). What the residents find most frightening is the fact that the fires are set right on rear porches, using their own trash cans.

Less than 20 miles from where I sit, children lie awake in their beds, fearing fire; parents wonder how they will replace lost belongings; and citizens call for the National Guard. You know people are desperate when they ask for National Guard patrols in their streets. Seems they want action more aggressive action than thee declaration of a State of Emergency and requests for residents to keep their porch lights burning.

But, there are two pieces of good news.

  1. The feds are bringing resources and expertise to the investigation.
  2. There were no fires today.

Today is always a good start, but not yet quite enough to extinguish the fear.


TRXTR said...

I am familiar with Coatesville. I've been in some of the row houses there. I can imagine what happens, how when one house catches fire, the fire spreads quickly up and down the row. Not so curiously, fires of this sort sometimes flare up in Chicago, too-- when a lot of damage can be done by one arsonist. The terror is beyond imagination.

Here in SoCal, where we are used to fires of the more brushy type, we are, as densely populated as we are, not as familiar with places like Coatesville. Still, the local paper ran a picture like yours-- and our hearts went out to those people.

One of those displaced was a city councilwoman? I don't know why our paper made such a deal of saying that; we learned of no one else's vocation. Do we think that those in government should somehow be immune to such things? None of us are. We are all vulnerable to idiots and their evil, I am sorry to say.

Keep us (at some distance from you) posted! Thanks...

Carolyn said...

It is said "that we are not given more than we can handle" but you have to wonder. There is nothing more terrifying than fire...we had an arsonist here for about a year and you could see the toll it was taking everyday when you looked into peoples faces....
It brought us together as we watched out for each other and it tore us apart as we accused one another of the deed. It is still an open sore in the community four years later as no one was caught.
Thank you for your post.
P.S. I thoroughly enjoy your playlist!

Janie said...

Fire is frightening, especially for a child trying to sleep with the fear.
Sure hope the feds can find the arsonist and stop the devastation.

CoyoteFe said...

Halllooo TRXTR

I believe the fire jumped through the attics. Simply horrible. Also, there has been one fatality to-date (could not type "only" in that sentence.) I cannot think of what would possess one to think that such a thing is interesting. Or funny. Or exciting.

Re; the news converage - Perhaps it is the number of fires that has made it a national story. Fire is one of those mythically terrifying things that capture the imagination.

Have to agree with you on the special mention of the councilwoman. As if a VIP makes the story more compelling. Although, it may be because the city is up in arms about the slow, ineffective response of the city until very recently. Maybe it was meant to communicate, "We feel your pain. See? We have been touched too."

CoyoteFe said...

Greetings, Carolyn -

Very interesting what happened in your town. Amazing how a crises brings out the best and worst instincts - sometimes simultaneously. Do the suspicions still exist after four years? Sounds exhausting. Sorry to hear.

And, thanks for the compliment on the playlist!

CoyoteFe said...

Hi Janie!

I know a few people who live there, and will pass on your hopes. It's hard to imagine that this could go on in a relatively small city, and in such close quarters without someone seeing something.

Carolyn said...

It began with someone setting fire to the recycle bin in the P.O. Box area of the post office, the dumpster under the eves of the community hall, peoples porches, vehicles and finally the new high school. It was within days of completion when it burnt to the ground. That was a heart brake.

Much credit goes to the volunteer firefighters who managed to get control of most of the fires before much damage happened. The fires changed how we do everyday things, things that are important...the post office is locked for mail pick up after hours, big flood lights have been put on community buildings and security cameras have been put up and most important we lost trust in the safety of our community.
There was so much speculation in the void of no suspects so people who had "histories" in the community were often targeted. It was very sad.
There has been no resolution!

CoyoteFe said...

Carolyn -

I don't know if it is the fact that such a thing would happen in your beautiful town, or the randomness of it all that is more disturbing. Not to mention all those who worked to bring a new school into being who saw their efforts trashed.

And, the changes you described are are the worst part. When someone forces us to make akter our lives, that is when we feel the powerlessness. I am so very sorry!

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