An Unpleasant Call in the Middle of the Night

It’s seldom good news when the phone rings in the middle of the night. The call in the early morning hours of December 17, 2010 was no exception. I was sleeping soundly at home when around 3:00 a.m. I received a call from the Provo Police and Fire Dispatch Center informing me that the tabernacle was on fire. The Provo Tabernacle; no further description was needed.

The Provo Tabernacle had been a busy place over the past couple of days in preparation for the production of “Gloria,” a musical celebration of the birth of Christ.   A dress rehearsal was held until late Thursday night. But now a fire was racing through the attic of the building, consuming the wooden roof structure that was over 100 years old.

The dispatcher patched my call through to the on-duty Battalion Chief, Roger Gourley, who explained that the fire was well advanced on his arrival and his crews were not safely able to sustain an effective interior fire attack. He simply but effectively summed up the situation in two words, “it’s bad.”

A Landmark Devoured by Flame

When I arrived on the scene a short time later, I realized how bad it was. The fire had broken through the roof and it was impossible for the crews to deliver enough water to the locations where it would be most effective in slowing the flame spread. At approximately 4:30 a.m., the west end of the roof collapsed, and the open flames lit up the dark and cold winter sky.

 A feeling of hopelessness set in as the fire continued to race through the rest of the roof structure. A number of water streams were deployed at different angles to try to slow the spread but to no avail. The remainder of the roof structure collapsed around 6:00 am, pulling down a portion of the east gable. The entire contents of the tabernacle were now buried under the collapsed burning roof. A feeling of gloom and despair was felt by most everyone on scene that morning. In addition to the numbing effect of the freezing temperatures and snow, we were emotionally numb as we experienced the helpless feeling of the loss of this historic and sacred landmark.

Firefighters love to save lives and property, and fortunately there was no loss of life as a result of this fire. In fact, there was not even a serious injury. But this was a hard morning for the firefighters in Provo, as they had failed to save this important, historic structure, and the morale was very low. The fact that the fire was too far advanced when it was discovered, and the ceiling was beginning to fall on the first crew as they entered the building, was little consolation to a group of men and women who take pride in preserving buildings, especially one as important to the community as the Provo Tabernacle.

Read the full article at LDS Living.