The Freedom Valley Chronicles: The Millennium Fire – Part Eleven Memories Of Residents And Workers

Flames were seen for miles as an inferno devastated Conshohocken on August 13, 2008.

“I moved into Riverwalk [At Millennium] six days before the fire.  I lived in one of the two buildings that ended up being saved.  That day was terrifying.  During the days after the fire, [for] those of us whose buildings were ok, [we] were able to return for a few hours and retrieve a few items.  I ended up terminating my lease and moving out of Riverwalk as soon as we were allowed to.  I met friends in my new apartment complex who had lived in one of the other buildings and lost everything.”

-Diana Kurutz

“I was working [at Two Tower Bridge] that day.  I had a couple co-workers who lived in the buildings that caught on fire.  We were unaware of the fire until we heard the [fire] trucks going by.  When we finally broke from a meeting we were in, we looked out the building and then we realized what was happening.”

-Malcolm Stanley

“My husband [Scott] said the heat was so bad [that] they could feel it through their office windows two buildings away.  I was 9 months pregnant with our son when it happened. Phone calls were not getting through.  Luckily, my husband walked behind a reporter that was broadcasting the fire.  So we knew he was safe at that point.  We had to pick my husband up from the McDonald’s as the cars from his building were trapped by emergency equipment.  And I gave birth to my son 9 days later. It was a crazy time!”

-Debbie Brown

People watched as the flames continued to destroy the construction site of Stables At Millennium and begin to engulf occupied apartments in the buildings of Riverwalk At Millennium.

“Two months prior to the fire, I had moved back to Conshohocken after living in Philadelphia.  The location of my new apartment at Riverwalk At Millennium was excellent and a great place for me as I was starting my own business in public relations.  On the afternoon of the fire, people were banging on the doors to alert residents to get out of the building.  As I got outside, I went into the courtyard area.  I could see the blaze next door [at the construction site of Stables At Millennium].  I, and others, stood there staring at the fire as it grew in size.  When you’re in the midst of a big disaster, you’re in shock.  You’re trying to process what’s happening.  The fire initially seemed controllable.  I thought it might be contained.  But as I walked around the buildings, the intensity of the fire became obvious.  The flames then leaped over the driveway and reached the top of the roof of one of the occupied apartment buildings at Riverwalk At Millennium.  The roof went into flames.  It was like a slow-motion movie.  The first building went, then the second building.  I could see the fire fighters trying to battle the inferno.  I never forgot watching some of the fire fighters with chain saws cutting a trench in the roof trying to suppress the fire.”

-Tony DeFazio

”I worked at the Great American Pub at the time, and we had a handful of patrons in the following days who were displaced by the fire.  I’d heard that while no people died, a number of pets did pass away in the fire, and many people certainly lost items of irreplaceable personal value.  So, when some guests who came in appeared to be almost in a state of shock, I had a good guess as to why.”

-Tom Stanley

“[In the weeks] before the fire … [while] living in Riverwalk apartments…the area was very lively especially since it was Summer and due to its location next to the bike trail, river, and community pool.  In the months after, it just felt quieter as … the season was changing into Fall and there were just less people around.  The exception was the first week or two after the fire as the place was a curiosity with lots of people taking pictures from the bike trail [and] lots of reporters around.”

-Tom Wiesak

“I was crossing the bridge on my way to work in Villanova when it jumped from the buildings under construction to Riverwalk.  Could feel the heat from that far away.  I remember thinking it was odd to see buildings that size entirely framed with wood in the weeks leading up to the fire.”

-Ethan Hammer

“Wow, seems like a lifetime ago when this fire happened.  I lived there at the time of this fire.  It was amazing how quickly every fire department responded and how organized they were!  It was frightening, but amazing.  I was so thankful for their professional and cooperative performance.  A friend called me and said ‘you are going to need a place to stay tonight, so just come over.’ The people of Conshohocken and the Philadelphia area are incredible.”

-Denise Painter

The next news column will detail how the teachings of the Dalai Lama helped one resident of Conshohocken cope with the inferno and its aftermath.

The first and fifth photographs are courtesy of Mr. Dan Berger, August 13, 2008.

The second photograph is courtesy of Mr. TrafficDan Miller, August 13, 2008.

The third photograph is courtesy of Mr. Malcolm Stanley, August 13, 2008.

The fourth, seventh, eighth, and ninth photographs are courtesy of Ms. Ying Nichada, August 13, 2008.

The sixth photograph is courtesy of Keystone Valley Fire Department, August 14, 2008.

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