'It's a real tragedy': Fire rips through historic Chester Playhouse
Landmark centre was set to reopen after $800K renovation
A fire in Chester, N.S., badly damaged the local playhouse and forced the evacuation of other businesses Friday afternoon.
People reported seeing the fire around 3:15 p.m. AT as smoke billowed out of the Chester Playhouse. The nearby Kiwi Café was evacuated about 15 minutes later.
Greg Conron, deputy chief of the Chester volunteer fire department, said firefighters from 12 departments tackled the fire, which briefly spread to a second building before being contained.
"Right now the fire has been knocked down and contained. We're still soaking down some hot spots," Conron told CBC News around 5:30 p.m.
He said the playhouse was still standing and the main part appeared to be "salvageable," but it was too soon to say if the building is structurally sound.
"It seemed to be confined mainly to the attic — the third floor — as far as fire damage. Obviously with the amount of water we're putting into it, there will be water damage throughout the structure," he said.
Firefighters will continue to watch for hot spots and await word from the fire marshal to see if the scene needs to be secured overnight.
The playhouse's Facebook page posted that nobody had been hurt in the fire.
Beverly Jollimore, an employee at the nearby Fo'c'sle Tavern, spoke to CBC News as fire trucks arrived.
"I can see the top floor of the Chester Playhouse; black smoke is billowing out of the top floor," she said "There's a lot of damage — blackened wood."
She could see two or three fire engines fighting the fire and said RCMP were on site, too. The street is blocked off and crowds are keeping back.
'It looks really bad'
The 80-year-old theatre started a major renovation in September 2020 that would make it more accessible and able to operate all year. The federal and provincial governments spent almost $800,000 on the work. It was supposed to reopen this month.
Peter Parsons stepped outside to play golf when he noticed a strange fog in the village. His daughter smelled smoke and they soon discovered the playhouse was on fire.
He saw six-metre flames shooting out of the back of the theatre and some of the windows were smashed.
"The water damage would have to be incredible. There was a huge waterfall coming off of the top and down to the street," he said. "It looks really bad, unfortunately. It's a real tragedy."
There are houses behind the playhouse, he said, though the fire had not reached them.
Parsons was due to perform with his band at the playhouse's reopening in a few weeks.
"A lot of work was done. It was totally redesigned. Everybody was just waiting for the grand opening so we could all see what they had done," he said. "It's such a shame."
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with files from Shaina Luck