The Woonsocket mill fire


One evening last week, a very odd smell pervaded our apartment. Chemicals, and burning rubber, and wood smoke, and – who knows?



It turned out that a huge old mill was burning down in Woonsocket, about thirty miles north of Providence. Arson? Accident? No one knew.



Although, in Rhode Island, arson is always the first assumption.



Partner told me around 10:00 pm to look at the live radar feed on you could actually see the smoke cloud around Woonsocket.



And then I realized I’d seen something strange earlier that evening, when I was coming home from the health club: a huge cloud, like a cumulonimbus, hanging in the northern sky. I’d though this was strange, as no storms were predicted for that day or the next.



The smell of the fire was really nauseating here, so many miles away. Can you imagine what it was like in Woonsocket, close by? (The WPRI newsman on the scene, Walt Buteau, was many blocks away from the fire, but said he could still feel the heat. Regard the above picture. I believe him.)



This kind of thing has happened many times in Rhode Island. When a building is inconvenient, it burns down. There used to be a huge department store in downtown Providence; it went out of business; whammo! it burned down.



I came back from the Peace Corps in 1987. Friends were showing me around town, to show me what I’d missed in three and a half years. As we turned down Congdon Street, I saw smoke rising from the old train station. “Ah,” I said. “Nothing has changed.”



I’m not pointin’ my finger at anybody.



I’m not sayin’ that people in Rhode Island set fires for the insurance money, and to clear property.



I’m just sayin’.



(Postscript: the Valley Breeze later reported that the fire was started by a spark from a welder’s torch. Of course! What else could it have been?)





About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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