A malfunctioning electric heater has been blamed for a three-alarm fire that extensively damaged a pharmacy and caused smoke damage to the Fells Point studio of Grace Hartigan, a renowned artist.
The fire broke out in the front of the REVCO pharmacy at South Broadway and Eastern Avenue about 12:15 p.m. yesterday and quickly raced through much of the store. The smoke also reached Hartigan's upstairs art studio. Hartigan is an abstract impressionist whose works are featured in galleries and museums here and in other cities.
Hartigan is working on a series of paintings ranging in price from $15,000 to $50,000 that are set to be exhibited April 2 at Constantine Grimaldis' gallery at 1006 Morton St.
Grimaldis said today "the paintings were in an area that was filled with smoke," but they apparently were otherwise intact. "There was no visible damage as of yesterday," he said.
Fire Department spokesman Capt. Patrick P. Flynn said the fire caused an estimated $65,000 damage to the building and $100,000 to its contents. Only the pharmacy and its contents were burned. Damage to the upper three floors was limited to smoke, and artworks kept there were said to be "salvageable."
Flynn said the fire started in the electric heater, which was found after the fire plugged in, and in the "on" position.
Fire officials said it took firefighters from several stations about an hour to gain control of the fire that forced Hartigan and two employees to flee. No injuries were reported.
At the time of the fire, the pharmacy was closed.
Hartigan said she was in her studio and putting the finishing touches on a painting titled "The French Doll" when she saw smoke coming up from the store below.
Hartigan said she left by a door on the Eastern Avenue side of the building and that her assistants, a man and a woman, escaped by ladders provided by firefighters on the Broadway side.