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Two three alarm fires in one day. First, historic Eastern Market, on Capitol Hill, caught fire this morning, allegedly from a dumpster fire behind the building. The entire Southern section of the building gutted.
With Eastern Market still smoldering, at 12:30 this afternoon, the Georgetown Branch of the DC Public Library caught fire. This building, a “flagship” of the library system according to Mayor Fenty, housed the Peabody Room, an unmatched collection of historic documents.
It is unclear what caused the fire, nor if any of the documents were saved. The Peabody Room held documents relating to almost each of the historic Georgetown mansions, copies of newspapers relating the history of Georgetown as an independent city and then a city incorporated into the District, and priceless paintings. The head librarian of the Peabody Room said he often had nightmares about today and thought about “what he would grab first.”
The library, like most, has smoke detectors but no sprinklers.
I happened to be grocery shopping at the “Social Safeway” about one block away when the fire started. Flames reached so high into the sky it seemed the entire city block was on fire. Wisconsin Ave. was shut down almost entirely from M Street to Whitehaven. Trucks from every fire station in the city came to the library’s rescue, yet heavy smoke and flames kept firefighters from entering the building for almost 2 hours. Spectators gathered on the street and wept.
Visting my friend, and sponsor, Louis Everard at his store across from the library today, I asked him about the tragedy. He told me about the priceless documents the library held, how he used to research in the Peabody Room in 1965, and what devastation the whole community felt.
As Louis thanked a passing fireman for his efforts, I thought of the history lost today – both in the library and Eastern Market – but in the least, looked forward to helping to rebuild in the future.
(Photo credit, Eastern Market, Washington Post.)