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Fire's destruction visits scene of creativity


YESTERDAY been weeping if it had any heart, Caroly Maynard peered deep into the ruins of the Clipper Industrial Park and looked for glimpses of her vanished past.

It was in there somewhere, but God knew where. It was in there with the ashen remains of all of the artists' studios and the little businesses and the sense of history wiped out in the devastating fire of Saturday night and Sunday morning. Yesterday, it looked like London after the blitz.

There were steel beams jutting into the air, which seemed connected to nothing. There were blackened clumps that once might have been anything, and onlookers talked of big pieces of debris flying wildly through the air Saturday night. There were big stones, that once were the outer walls of buildings, and now they were reduced to rubble.

And somewhere out there in the blackened waste was Carolyn Maynard's history, all gone now, and Maynard was turning to one friend and another, hoping for some sense of comfort in yesterday's gloomy morning air.

One fireman, 25-year-old Eric Schaefer, caught under tons of collapsing granite, lay dead and two more were listed in serious condition. Behind police lines at Clipper Mill Road and Union Avenue, a small crowd was beginning to gather, some of them artists who'd been wiped out, some of them neighbors who'd stood on their roofs and turned hoses toward the fire, some of them merely the curious who were visibly awed at the destruction.

"I lost everything, I guess," said Carolyn Maynard. She'd had her art studio here for the past two years. "I lost oils, I lost landscapes, sketchbooks, tons of books. I lost, I don't know . . ."

Her voice trembled. She turned to hug a friend, who held her tightly. Behind dark glasses, tears slipped down her cheeks. A couple of city cops stood nearby, sympathetic but making certain nobody tried to cross lines yet to look for any remnants.

"It's like losing your past," Maynard said. She wrapped her arms around a fellow, and held on. "It's like losing a child. All my old journals, all my visual records, all of my work, my God . . . "

Now there were others arriving, whose fates were similar. Scott Wallace made customized furniture here. All of it was gone, he said. He pointed at a spot in the rubble, maybe 50 yards away.

"That big hole over there, that was an archway," he said. "That's where I worked. My entire life was in there, all my work, my paperwork, my grandmother's antiques. My wife and I were away, and when we came home there was a message, 'You gotta come down here.' We couldn't get the car near. I came running down the road. All of it, gone. . . . "

And yet, in the morning light, there was some sense of relief here. The devastation was somehow confined. A wooded area, off to the left: untouched. It could have set off a horrifying blaze. Homes just beyond the 140-year old foundry: still standing. These firefighters waged a kind of miracle here, keeping the damage in one place.

"I was right up the street," Sandy Gibson was saying yesterday, "making brownies with my daughter and my niece, and I heard people running outside. They were screaming. I looked outside and I couldn't see anything but orange."

She said the fire department sent people door-to-door, telling residents to evacuate. Gibson began helping some of the elderly. People carried their dogs and cats. Then Gibson, 33, climbed up on a roof "with Timmy and Louis Grim. They were squirting hoses. We were afraid, if just a spark hit the house, it would take out everything.

"Then my dad got up on his roof with a hose. He's got bad legs, but he was up there with that hose. I was scared for him. We had hankies over our faces. There were no lights up there, just the light from the fire. People were terrified. We didn't know if the water would hold out, so we were gonna take buckets and fill them with water from the swimming pools in back yards. You do what you have to do."

Yesterday morning, those like Sandy Gibson gazed at the destruction and counted blessings. Her home, and her father's, were spared. Others tried to calculate their losses. Carolyn Maynard lost everything, and so did Scott Wallace. They found no blessings. They wait to hear of insurance possibilities. But how can money replace history, whose value can never be measured?

Mike Olesker appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

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