Fire destroys artists’ work and equipment at Paragon Arts and Industry Building in Easthampton

Last modified: Monday, September 08, 2014

EASTHAMPTON — As she stood next to a soot-covered, 5-foot-tall abstract painting Tuesday afternoon, artist Marlene Rye bemoaned the loss of her work.

“This painting is worth $4,000 and it’s definitely gone,” she said.

That painting and perhaps tens of thousands of dollars worth of others were damaged or destroyed in a Monday evening fire which began in Rye’s studio at the Paragon Arts and Industry Building on Pleasant Street in Easthampton.

Easthampton Fire Chief David Mottor pegged the damage at $90,000 — but said that number could very well rise as the extent of the damage is tallied.

Rye and Mottor said rags with linseed oil on them apparently “spontaneously combusted,” likely ignited paper towels in the trash with them and then eventually set the workbench above the trash can ablaze.

He said if rags with linseed oil are packed tightly enough, they will start to generate heat and can ignite nearby materials.

Mottor said while the sprinklers did a good job containing the fire, smoke detectors would have gone off much sooner than the sprinklers, perhaps bringing help more quickly.

Mottor said most of the people from the building who talked to fire officials reported that they carried no renter’s insurance.

The lack of insurance is one reason why Mottor said there’s no reason to suspect the fire was deliberately set by anyone. “There’s nothing to gain there,” he said.

Early reports from building owners Ronald and Marilyn Sturgill that the fire began in the Fusion Fitness studio were incorrect, Mottor said Tuesday afternoon. He said there may have been some confusion about where the fire started because Rye was working out in Fitness Fusion when the fire alarm went off about 6 p.m.

Mottor said due to state zoning regulations, the Paragon Building is not required to have smoke detectors.

The fitness studio was not affected by the fire, nor was it damaged by water, according to Mottor.

Rye said by about noon Monday she had finished the first class of a new session for a summer art camp she runs for children.

After cleaning up, she said, there were some paper towels with vegetable oil on them to clean paint off the campers and some rags with linseed oil on them.

About half of the table in Rye’s studio was charred black, hunks of burned wood were strewn around the studio Tuesday afternoon and a large window at the studio’s rear was broken out during firefighting efforts, Rye said.

Even with the window gone, the smell of burned wood and soot was still thick in the studio on Tuesday.

It’s the smell more than the water damage that concerns Rye.

Even if some of her artwork — oil on canvas and pastels on paper — managed to survive undamaged by water from the overhead sprinklers and extinguishers and hoses brought up by firefighters, the smell of smoke may have embedded itself into the wood frames and canvases of her work, probably making them unsellable.

In addition to the artwork, Rye said she lost several thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including a camera, paint and a circular saw.

With the loss of her studio, she’s had to cancel the remainder of the summer art camps as well as private art lessons she taught.

Rye said some of the work that was lost was supposed to be part of exhibits in September and October, and now she will be busily working to produce new art for them.

The experience of having lost so much work may find its way into the new pieces, she said.

“Art is always about where you are from and what you’ve gone through,” she said.

Rye said she did not carry renter’s insurance on the studio because it typically reimburses only for the cost of materials and does not take into account the value of the final piece.

A painting that can be sold for $4,000, she said, may only see an insurance claim for about $100 worth of raw materials, she said.

While there was some water damage in her studio, Rye said the water damage in the spaces beneath hers was “horrid.”

Artist Maggie Nowinski is one of the artists whose space below Rye’s was flooded with water. She was there Tuesday afternoon sorting through what was left.

Nowinski said she was in the process of moving into a new studio in the building, one that was apparently not affected by the smoke and water.

She said she had moved a lot of tools and materials, but most of her art was in the studio when the sprinkler system went off.

“I’m still processing it,” she said when asked if she knew the scope of the damage.

She said firefighters tried to cover the art with plastic tarps while sprinklers were running, but they had already been exposed to water by then, Nowinski said — “hundreds of pieces.”

“A bunch of my best work was destroyed,” she said.

Much of her artwork was stored on metal shelves directly below a sprinkler head, she said.

On Tuesday afternoon, about an inch of dark, brown sooty water was sloshing around inside sets of white plastic drawers used to keep and organize art supplies and tools, and a wooden drafting table sat swollen and warped from the water.

“I liked it, it’s gone now,” Nowinski said of one painting in particular that was too water-damaged to be saved.

Nowinski and Rye both said there has been talk of some type of benefit fundraiser for victims of the fire, perhaps in coordination with an Arts Night Out, but no details were set as of Tuesday afternoon.

Nowinski said she left the building about 6 p.m. Monday and got a call an hour later about the fire. She was able to get into her studio about 9 p.m., but the power was out and she could only search by flashlight.

The building’s fire alarm went off about 6 p.m., Mottor said, and firefighters from Holyoke and Northampton arrived to assist Easthampton with the blaze.

About 20 firefighters tackled the fire, Mottor said. There were no injuries.

Because the fire was showing only light smoke and was on the third floor, firefighters first attacked the fire with water extinguishers and found the sprinkler system had brought it mostly under control.

Fire hoses were used briefly to finish off the fire, Mottor said.

“Sprinklers kept that from probably being hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss,” Mottor said.

Mottor said the smell of the smoldering rags and paper may have gone unnoticed in the building due to odors coming from nearby construction, including roofing and work on new water mains for fire protection systems.

Bob Dunn can be reached at


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy