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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

First Person: Theater Fire

I consult WNEP.com before I begin my short drive to the office every day, so I have a decent idea of what I'll face when I hit the door.  Yesterday, I knew I'd be working on the Middle Smithfield Township theater complex fire.  It doesn't mean the day was cut and dried.

We had a crew at the fire just after it broke out Sunday night, so I had some solid material with which to work, but the story was far from over.  There was a logistical challenge.  I could handle the newest details from our newsroom, or we could race the clock and drive to Monroe County.  Producer Kim and I weighed our options.  I always say "You miss 100 per cent of the shots you never take."  Photographer Jeff and I piled in a satellite truck for the trip to the Marshalls Creek area.  We made it with about 15 minutes to spare.
Today's photos were taken after sunrise, so let me describe the scene at 4:00 AM.  No fire trucks.  No firefighters.  Just a fair amount of smoke and a few small pockets of fire burning in the rubble.  Eerie is an understatement.  The smoke hung low to the ground, and I ate enough of it during my shift.  More on that later.

We spent the morning showing video from the height of the fire, plus live pictures of the aftermath.  Nearby residents started showing up to take a look, as well as a vendor.  They all shared their stories of the movie theater/shopping center/flea market complex.  Thank you.
The fire chief arrived with some new nuggets of information.  A fire truck followed to put out the hot spots.   Photographer Jeff and I took what we had gathered and headed back to the office.  My fingers hit the keyboard.  Editor Erich assembled the piece.  My friend and co-worker Carmella Mataloni was live at the scene on Newswatch 16 at Noon to introduce my piece and add what she had learned.  My day was finished.

I should really add how sad it is to watch a theater burn, even one that had seen better days.  I bored Photographer Jeff in the truck with tales of growing up with places like the Center, the Strand and the Comerford in downtown Scranton.  There were summertime trips to the drive in in Dupont and Dickson City.  I rarely see movies these days.  The family memories are awesome.

Now, some side notes.  I skipped lunch when I got home.  The smoke played games with my stomach.  I headed right for the shower.  I couldn't wait to get out of those smokey clothes.  As I write this, the stench of the smoke is still lodged in my sinuses.  I've been covering fires for a long time.  Some hit you harder than others and this was one of those cases.

I'm very sorry for the people who lost jobs and businesses in the fire.  It would be nice to see the theater complex rebuilt.