Flash Burn Surprise

Thanks to Kim Looby, Intern at the Gaston County Museum, for this guest post. Museum Curator Stephanie Elliott attended C2C’s disaster planning & recovery workshop last week and the story she told us about the recent burn damage in her museum was so fascinating, we convinced her to get her staff to share it with our larger blog audience.

GastonCountyFireThis summer the museum had quite the scare.  A staff member had smelled smoke over the weekend and gone to investigate, but found nothing. On Monday when everyone returned, another staff member noticed two large burn holes in the carpet in our hands-on parlor. Everyone tossed out ideas about what could have caused it. Was someone smoking? Did something fall from the ceiling? This was all extremely distressing due to the fact that our museum is over 100 years old and made of wood. It would burn quite quickly. But it wasn’t a visitor, it was physics.

An intern recalled visiting a museum where they had a magnifying glass in a window in front of a wicker rocking chair. The sunlight coming in the window was concentrated through the magnifying glass and caught the wicker chair on fire and nearly burned down the museum. Then staff noticed that the bottom of the stool in front of the pump organ had ball and claw feet with glass balls. The stool feet lined up perfectly with the burn holes on the carpet. The stool, which is usually tucked under the organ, had apparently been left out in the middle of the carpet over the weekend. The windows in the parlor are well covered by an overhang, though, preventing most direct sunlight. The sun had to have passed at the right time of day, at the right position in the sky and with the stool at the right position on the floor to create a perfect scenario to burn the carpet.

To rectify the situation, we are going to employ the practice of Victorians and cover the stool legs with fabric so the legs are no longer “improper” and the glass balls are covered. The rug was a reproduction, which has since been tossed and replaced. The moral of the story is this: If you have anything with glass in front of a window, beware that if sunlight passes through it, you might have a disaster.


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on September 24, 2013, in Connecting to Collections, disaster preparedness, fire, guest bloggers, historic houses, museums, workshops and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Very interesting – Glad it was no worse than it was.

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