Sept. 1, 2002 – Fire destroyed an apartment at Smith's Fancy, a few feet away from the historic Jewish synagogue on St. Thomas. Fire Chief Merwin Potter said at the scene Sunday night that fire fighters battled the blaze in Apartment 15 for some time before bringing it under control.
"They are working their way through the ceiling to fully extinguish the fire," he said. At one point in the operation, he shouted to firemen on the front line to prepare to remove the galvanize sheet which lined the roof of the wooden frame apartment building.
Smith's Fancy, owned by St. Thomas attorney Tom Bolt and Jenny Smith, is a series of buildings to the west of the synagogue and about two blocks up the hill from the St. Thomas Reformed church.
"We received the call at 7:43 p.m. from police and quickly dispatched several units to the scene," Potter said, adding, "the fact that this structure is made primarily of old pine wood, it's going to smolder for some time." At times the thick grey and white smoke billowed into the air as various hot spots glowed bright orange amidst the darkness of night. The Sunday night fire and smoke could be clearly seen across the downtown area, the unique smell of burning pine board filled the air for miles.
Potter said the biggest challenge was getting firefighting apparatus up the narrow winding road of Synagogue Hill. "When we're fighting a fire that's uphill, we constantly have to go up and down stairs and downhill and back to the trucks for equipment, it's taking its toll but we will make it through."
As the fire appeared under control, firefighters entered the building to search room by room for additional hot spots. There was no immediate indication as to the cause and origin of the blaze. Fire inspectors were on the scene about an hour after the initial call to begin surveying the area to determine whether arson played a role.
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