This had a potential for disaster!
Lynn fire sparks concern about smoking areas
By David Liscio
Tuesday, August 3, 2004
LYNN -- The pre-dawn fire that broke out behind the Agora Marketplace strip mall Friday was extinguished without incident, but authorities say it had the makings of a tragedy.
In an effort to accommodate patrons now that the city has begun enforcing its no-smoking ban at public places, many bars and restaurants are creating designated smoking areas such as the two behind the shopping center on Market Street.
On Friday, one of those smoking areas went up in flames and melted four natural gas meters, including one with a small leak that officials say easily could have set off a devastating explosion.
"If the gas had touched off, we'd have one less strip mall down there," said Fire Lt. David Legere, head of the department's arson squad."The fire melted four gas meters on the outside of the building, and burned a couch, picnic table, and cardboard boxes filled with papers and magazines.It could have been a lot worse."
According to Legere, Engine 3 was dispatched to the neighborhood at approximately 3 a.m. to investigate a report of smoke but found nothing.An hour later, a truck driver making a delivery to Brothers' Deli in the marketplace spotted the flames toward the end of the building nearest the Curves exercise outlet.
"We don't know how long it smoldered, but the fire was going when Engine 3 and Ladder 2 arrived.Luckily the building is cinderblock.If it (were) wood, it would be all over," Legere said.
Legere said businesses in the strip mall are"trying to do the right thing by making a comfortable place for their customers to smoke outside."However, he noted that the smoking area contained flammable furniture and other materials, while it lacked a safe means for extinguishing cigarettes.
"There were cigarette butts and beer bottles all over the place," he said."It's fine that bars and restaurants are going out of their way to make smokers comfortable, but I'd like to see them use common sense."
Among the suggestions for safer smoking areas:use non-combustible furniture such as metal folding chairs and tables, and buckets filled with sand or water where patrons can douse their cigarettes. Smoking areas should not abut the building.
The fire in a designated smoking area was the first of its kind in Lynn since the ban went into effect in early July."I've got a sense that this is gong to happen more often," Legere said.
Keyspan Energy replaced the four destroyed gas meters.No citations were issued to the businesses.