December 3, 1999
The blaze seemed so non-threatening that firefighters didn't
bother to put on their masks as they swept through the Worcester
Cold Storage and Warehouse shortly after 6:15 p.m. on Dec.
3, 1999. Soon, all that would change. The building would
quickly envelop the men inside with thick, boiling smoke,
poisonous fumes and flames that would reach more than 3,000
degrees before the horrible night ended.
|Six Worcester firefighters -- Lt. Thomas E. Spencer,
Lt. James F. Lyons, Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M.
Lucey, Timothy P. Jackson and Joseph T. McGuirk -- never
made it out alive. District Fire Chief Michael O. McNamee,
who would later call the abandoned warehouse "the
building from hell," said he had never seen conditions
deteriorate so rapidly in 27 years on the job.The fire
had started earlier in the afternoon when a homeless
couple, Julie Ann Barnes and Thomas Levesque, knocked
over a candle during an argument. They ran out of the
building when they couldn't put out the flames. They
never reported the fire.It took six days to extinguish
the blaze, eight to locate the remains of all six men.
The drama played out in front of a grieving city and
nation. President Bill Clinton and more than 30,000
firefighters from around the country joined the city
in a public memorial service at the Worcester Centrum.
Through the tears, the city seemed to gain strength and
unity. Thousands lined the streets for the memorial service,
standing silently as a sea of visiting firefighters marched
by in their dress blues. A fund started by the Telegram
& Gazette on the night of the blaze raised more than
$6.5 million with contributions coming in from all over
the world. The tragedy touched everyone