Fire damages forest-history institute

Nov. 05, 2013 @ 07:42 PM

Fire on Tuesday damaged a longtime educational institute that studies the history of forests and conservation worldwide, placing its library of rare and specialized books in jeopardy.

The fire at The Forest History Society at 701 William Vickers Ave., near Durham Police Headquarters, was discovered about 8 a.m. when two employees arriving for work saw smoke coming from the attic and called 911.

No one was hurt.

Chris Iannuzzi, deputy chief of the Durham Fire Department, said the attic fire was brought under control in about an hour.

He said firefighters helped remove many of the most valuable historic items, and covered the remaining books with plastic sheets to protect them from water used in the attic.

Iannuzzi said 47 firefighters were at the scene more than three hours.

He said the cause of the fire is being investigated.

Cheryl Oakes, librarian/archivist at the Duke University-affiliated nonprofit, stood outside the one-story brick building with other staff members as firefighters brought the blaze under control.

Firefighters helped employees grab several dozens rare books and framed photos and brought them outside, but many more books remained. Their condition was not immediately known.

Oakes said she was told that an electrical fire started in the attic and burned part of the ceiling over the library.

“We haven't been in yet to see the extent of the damage, but we're anticipating there will be quite a bit of smoke and water damage,” she said. “Everything will have to be cleaned.”

Oakes, who has worked at the institute for 25 years, said the nonprofit has been at its current address since 1983. She said the society has been in other area locations since 1946.