July 21, 2017 is a day that will forever be remembered in the history of FCW. It was a hot, humid Friday typical of July in western NC. A Ham Radio class was scheduled for the next morning and Michelle was a FCW setting up for it. Mitch and Lisa dropped by to pick up a few things for a vacation to California. Crystal brought a few things by, then gave Mitch and Lisa a ride to the airport. Michelle stayed until 6:30PM, unaware that elsewhere in the building, a fire had started.
Michelle arrived home around 7PM and the phone rang a few minutes later. It was Brandon asking “Is that our space on fire?!” Michelle contacted Gene, who lived much closer to FCW and anxiously awaited the reply. Around 15 minutes later Gene called back, in tears and confirmed that the building was on fire. Michelle picked up Kay and rushed back to FCW. The black smoke could be seen 15 miles away. Gene, Mitch K., James S., and Ron were already there.
At that time, the fire was already through the roof but was at the rear of the building running along a cupola down the center. None of FCW was involved and we had some hope that the fire would be extinguished before reaching FCW. What we did not know at the time is that the sprinklers were faulty and were not working.
17 area fire departments were fighting the fire and many of the area buildings were evacuated. A local drone pilot who does flyovers for area TV stations recorded much of the fire.
FCW is behind the blue doors near the center of the building.
Soon, the flames engulfed most of the building and could be seen 60 miles away. The fire departments could not get enough water so concentrated on protecting surrounding buildings and let the main building burn. Colin put out the word that an emergency meeting of the FCW membership would be the next day at the town council building.
That night was a rough one as many of us did not get any sleep.
Before the meeting on Saturday, Michelle and Kay went to a neighboring street, trying to see as much as possible. Flames and smoke were still prevalent. Through binoculars, the windows of the common area were burned out and the sock vendor between the common area and science was burned out, but there was a glimmer of hope. The ham radio antenna outside the main doors was still up, and, more importantly, the FCW science and stagecraft areas looked intact, though there was fire on the ceiling of those areas. Those areas just might survive.
The meeting was well attended with Colin, Rich, Michelle, Kay, Ross, Mitch K., Matt, Brad, Ben, Gene, Jared, Rick, Bruce, Robert, Derek, Dave, Warren and others, present. There was much discussion about trying to salvage something, what to do about insurance and the leases and a few other items, but the most important decisions were:
- FCW would continue to have meetings.
- All scheduled classes would be immediately canceled, but classes that could be run would be rescheduled.
- The search would start immediately for a new location.
- Pending grant requests would be rewritten and permission would be requested to re-allocate unspent money to replacing as much as possible.
- The “scrounge” would be on for equipment, furniture, and donations.
- Insurance money would be used first to pay off the leases, then pool for expenses toward a building.
- A crowdfunding site would be set up to try to get some money.
The next day, the Science and Stagecraft areas succumbed to the fire. The fire continued to smolder for more than a month. The cause may never be determined, but personal opinion is that it was electrical due to the first flames appearing above where the power entered the building and that the building had sustained several lighting strikes on the previous week.
The drone footage after the fire is here.
Here is a gallery of FCW equipment after the fire.
Next: The Search is On