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On Friday, Dec. 17, 2010, a two-alarm fire destroyed the Provo Latter-Day Saints Tabernacle, considered a “historic treasure,” in Provo, UT. Investigators determined the fire was unintentional and likely was caused by a heat source placed too close to combustible materials. The loss was estimated at $15 million.
Construction of the 1,500-seat Tabernacle, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began in 1883 and was completed in 1886 at a cost of $100,000. It was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1898. The 16,228-square-foot building was constructed of unreinforced brick, five wythes deep, with a roof structure consisting of up to 10 rough-cut, two-by-12-inch planks held together with iron bolts. The roof deck was one-by-eight-inch planking and plywood with cedar shakes. The floor was one-inch, tongue-in-groove planks on top of two-by-12-inch, rough-cut floor joists. A balcony lined the north, east, and south interior walls and was supported by two-by-12-inch, rough-cut joists inserted into the masonry walls and 18 iron columns. Stairway access to the balconies was in octagonal turrets at each of the four corners of the structure. The ceiling deck consisted of lath and plaster on the interior ceiling supported by two-by-eight-inch joists topped with a plywood deck.
The building originally had a 147-foot-high clock tower in the center, but it was removed in the 1950s due to structural concerns. Numerous renovations were made to the facility in the 1980s and 1990s. A local fire detection system was installed in 1985, but was not monitored off site. No other fire protection systems were in place at the time of the fire.
The Tabernacle was scheduled to host a “Gloria” concert performed by Lex de Azevedo and the Millennial Choir on Dec. 17 and 18. The production was to be recorded by BYU Broadcasting. In support of the project, Trax Lighting and AV was contracted to provide production lighting and APS Security was signed to provide security for the production equipment. On Dec. 15 and 16, Trax set up the lighting for the production. All of the lighting was powered by a small trailer-mounted generator on the south side of the west parking lot. At 1 P.M., the BYU production crew arrived. All of the TV equipment was powered through the production trailer, which in turn was powered by a large generator in the west parking lot. The dress rehearsal for the “Gloria” production took place from 7 to 10 P.M. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in musical instruments and production equipment were in the building in preparation for the shows.
Provo Fire and Rescue was called to a reported fire at the Tabernacle at 100 South University Ave. at 2:43 A.M. Engine 24, a 55-foot quint; Truck 23, a 105-foot quint; Rescue 24 and Squad 21 with 11 firefighters were dispatched under the command of Battalion 22 Chief Roger Gourley. About 12 blocks south of the Tabernacle, Truck 25, a 105-foot quint, and Rescue 25 were clearing a response to a notifier alarm at the Provo Towne Centre Mall and also responded.
While responding, Truck 25 Captain Matt Beaudry reported two columns of smoke visible from 600 South University Ave. Engine 24 Captain Kevin Paxton reported smoke visible from the Center Street viaduct at Interstate 15. It was apparent the fire had a considerable head start. Truck 25 was first to arrive at 2:44 A.M. On arrival, Beaudry reported smoke showing from the roof gables at each end and from the eaves the entire length of the building. Beaudry designated the 100 South side of the building as side A and ordered Truck 25 placed at the A/B (southwest) corner so he could see three sides of the building. Beaudry requested a water supply from Engine 24 and ordered Truck 25 to ladder the roof, and requested a second alarm at 2:45 A.M.