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Who's to Blame, Who Do We Believe?

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 19, 2006 12:20AM

It’s cliché to say a newsworthy tragedy resembles something from a movie but if the recent Pilgrim Baptist Church fire looked like a scene from Towering Inferno or even Backdraft, the ensuing investigation and multiple explanations resemble Rashomon. So says Mary Haderlein, the PR rep for Conrad Roofing and Construction, whose subcontractors have been blamed for starting the blaze and abandoning the scene.

Rashomonpic.jpgA church official witnessed the two roofers sent by Conrad fleeing to their van as the blaze quickly consumed the historic birth of American gospel. But according to Conrad management the two men, Czech immigrants who spoke no English, promptly called their boss, who relayed the news to a Conrad official, who promptly called the Fire Department. The workers used two fire extinguishers with no success and were urged by an ambulance crewman to retreat to safety. Firefighters arrived too late to abate disaster, as recently released surveillance video shows an inferno overpowering their best efforts. Conrad officials insist the two men were properly trained in using propane torches but wouldn’t address whether using a dangerous open flame near a delicate wood structure was the wisest option.

Pilgrim Baptist filed suit against Conrad shortly after the January 6 blaze but the parties quickly settled the case, sparing congregation members and Conrad employees a painful fight but depriving classic film lovers of a local Kurosawa-style inquisition.