Photo by W. Trachim. May be copied under Fair Use guidelines

This was what I saw when I got to work just before 7PM last night.

The structure is an approximately 100 year-old mill building located on Stevens Street in Haverhill, Massachusetts. For those of you not familiar with the area, Haverhill is an old mill town, just like others that have their presence on the Merrimack River. The river’s headwaters are at the base of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It empties into the Atlantic Ocean in nearby Newburyport, about 15 miles east of where I am right now.

From beginning to end there are towns and cities that utilized the river for power in the many mills that lines its banks. Towns and cities like Franklin, Concord, and Manchester in New Hampshire, and Lawrence, Methuen, and Haverhill in Massachusetts. Drive into any of those communities and you’ll find many of these once magnificent brick buildings. In some places, like Manchester, some of them have been reclaimed for use as office space or residential properties. In others, they haven’t. The building that burned was one of those that fell into category B. My understanding is that the building had been abandoned for quite some time, but there was supposed to be talks between the City and the property management entity as to what to do with it. Since the building itself has been damaged in this way, it would seem to me that it would now come into question as to whether they will happen at all.

I am not aware of injuries to any of the Firefighters that responded to this incident. That is a blessing. It went to eight alarms at its height. I don’t know how many communities sent apparatus in to work on fighting the fire as a result, but I do know that they came from as far away as Londonderry, New Hampshire, which is approximately twenty miles north of Haverhill. As I write, it is now 5AM, and there are still apparatus on scene, presumably monitoring the building in the event of flare-up of hit spots that may be present. And I would think that the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal will be investigating to determine what might have caused the fire to start.

One thing to understand about buildings such as this is that due to how they were built, the wood that makes up flooring construction was saturated with oil, probably Linseed or Cotton oil, mainly to retard wear. And most of these buildings were used as manufacturing facilities, so their would likely be other potentially flammable fluids from lubrication of the machinery present. These presumably would also find their way into the wood surfaces. When fire makes contact, the floors act like huge candles or lamps; those oils I mentioned would burn, and burn, and burn some more. And from other building fires that I’ve seen that were similar to this one, it is very difficult to put the fire out. I think it because of the condition of the wood and the high heat.

I don’t know what the ultimate outcome of this situation will be. But I do know that there is still work happening on scene, more than twelve hours after this incident started. And it continues, at least for now.


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