Theater Marquee Sparks Downtown Fire
posted by Patrick Crowley on November 10, 2003 at 9:07 am
AVENAL, CA — According to a report by local television station ABC 30, the marquee of a historic movie theater was responsible for starting a blaze on Saturday evening that damaged several downtown buildings.
The AVENAL Theatre fire is sad news, but in another post somewhere, someone comments that it is the neon that is to blame, as though neon were somehow a much greater threat to safety than other electrical devices. Neon does operate at much higher voltage than other devices, and that can generate arcs of greater length that might touch a combustable, but other devices fail and cause fires too if not maintained. Since neon can be lighted for decades without attantion, some assume that it can be ignored except for throwing the switch at night time. The truth is that neon needs periodic maintenance as much as any other service. Not only do neon tubes crack and break, but the transformers do suffer magntostriction stress over time, as well as the usual damage to be expected from weathering. Even transformers potted in tar or plastic can suffer degredation leading to failure and possible short circuiting to nearby grounds. During rain, it is all the more likely that ill-maintained neon will reveal that fault. If that neon or other electrical service in the marquee of the AVENAL is also 66-years old, then it certainly needed inspection and maintenance as much as the theatre! Don’t blame the neon; blame naive or negligent people!
I’m really saddened by Avenal’s loss, and hope that they find the will and money to rebuild. I visited the Avenal Theatre just a few weeks ago with a fellow theatre buff friend of mine who does beautiful artistic photos of theatre neon at night. The Avenal is the most recent addition to my friend’s portfolio, and it’s a beautiful photo. Let’s hope that the theatre ultimatley reemerges as beautiful as when we saw it so recently.
It was obvious how much the theatre’s recent reopening was contributing to the main street of Avenal.