Full report: Phillips Collection fire (video & photos)


SUMMARY: The Phillips Collection’s roof caught fire this morning, causing smoke and water damage to the building, but no significant damage to artwork, according to museum director Dorothy Kosinski. D.C. Fire & EMS were dispatched at 8:30 this morning to the museum’s mansion, which was undergoing facade restoration. According to D.C. Fire & EMS, the sprinkler system was triggered and the blaze was extinguished within 10-15 minutes. There were no injuries.

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The space where much of the damage was incurred is used for offices, and contained no artwork. Fire personnel and museum staff worked to move the artwork into a secure space as damage was being evaluated. While D.C. Fire & EMS have estimated about $250,000 worth of damage, the Phillips was unable to confirm that figure. The museum will reopen Saturday, Sept. 4

UPDATE 5:25 p.m., Friday, Sept. 3: Kosinski says that though offices are still very soggy, paintings were able to escape damage because of swift-moving firemen and glaze coatings that repel water. Full interview with Kosinski.

UPDATE 4:22 p.m., Friday, Sept. 3: The Phillips Collection announced in a press release that the museum will re-open Saturday, Sept. 4, with the galleries in the mansion remaining closed until further notice. Admission is free throughout the month of September. Read the full report here.

UPDATE 4:25 p.m.: On TBD Arts, Judkis talks to D.C. Fire & EMS about how they worked to protect the Phillips Collection's art.

UPDATE 1:48 p.m.: Regarding D.C. Fire & EMS' tweet, the Phillips Collection says it "cannot confirm that information."

UPDATE 1:32: D.C. Fire & EMS has tweeted that the fire was accidental and probably caused by welders on roof. It estimates the damage at about $250,000.

UPDATE 12:46 Kosinski has not walked through the museum yet. She says the head conservator told her "nothing was damaged." On the fourth floor where the fire was, there were only offices. No art, just development offices. Those are the only floors where there was smoke damage. No Oberlin works have arrived yet, Kosinski says. They were just doing basic façade restoration. Not expecting significant delays to the restoration. Kosinski says she feels "very lucky the right people were on the premises." She didn't know if any staff were on the premises at the time the fire broke out.

UPDATE 12:37 Judkis is talking to Dorothy M. Kosinski, the Phillips' director. "There is no significant damage to any artwork," Kosinski says.

TRAFFIC UPDATE 12:17 21st Street NW is now reopened, the D.C. government reports.

UPDATE 11:51 City Paper's Jon Fischer tweets: "I just spoke with the Phillips' director. She says there was no damage to any art." City Paper's coverage of fire.

UPDATE 11:42 "Safe and secure" doesn't necessarily mean undamaged, Judkis points out in an e-mail. She and awesome art blogger Tyler Green are trying to talk to the Phillips people. Someone at the museum slammed the door on them.

UPDATE 11:28 Fire on the roof was possibly caused by welding on roof, Piringer says. Construction site is shut down for the day. Power is shut off to building. No word on when renovations will recommence.

As you know, this morning, there was a renovation-related fire on the roof of the Phillips House.

The fire was contained and extinguished. No one was injured. All artwork is safe and secure. Museum conservators are currently evaluating the artwork but nothing has incurred significant damage. The building condition is being evaluated as well.

The Museum is closed until further notice. Phillips after 5 has been postponed. This evening’s GW class, "The Peformative Impulse in American Art," will take place as planned at the Center for Study of Modern Art from 6–8:30 pm.

UPDATE 11:19: Pete Piringer, director of public of D.C. Fire & EMS is giving a statement: The cause of the fire is under investigation. Damage is moderate. There is water damage on all four floors of the building. There were no injuries. There were a few staff personnel in the building. Fire was brought under control in about 10, 15 minutes. Smoke damage on upper floors. Water damage on all four floors. There was artwork moved around on all four floors. There was damage. Firefighters moved some of the artwork around.

UPDATE 11:10: Judkis is back outside after helping Branchaud get photos off her new camera. Workers are back on the roof. Judkis says that it looks like firefighters had to break one of the old gabled windows. Says it looks like "expensive damage."

UPDATE 11:09 a.m.:Great photos by Marjorie Branchaud. Gallery coming.

UPDATE 10:54: Judkis has located a USB cord.

UPDATE 10:52: Judkis is talking to Branchaud, who has been staying at 1611 21st St. NW. Branchaud's dog started barking when the fire started. She saw firefighters on the roof. All the staff was arriving at then. Branchaud has photos! Judkis is going to the house Branchaud's staying in to help her get them off her phone and into the maw of the mainstream media.

UPDATE 10:48: ABC 7 is talking to Marjorie Branchaud, who used to live across the street. She's devastated. Love the Phillips. "You never feel rushed" when seeing art there, she says. Except this morning, presumably.

UPDATE 10:43: Phillips employees are steadfastly refusing to comment. Reporters are chasing them down, trying to "reason" with them. They are not having it.

UPDATE 10:42: Firetruck in Hillyer Alley and one on Massachusetts Avenue are leaving, Judkis says. Tschida says Phillips Collection told him they have no comment at the time and will have a statement soon.

UPDATE 10:39: Lot of standing around, Judkis says. Employees, firefighters, and construction workers all fall into this category.

UPDATE 10:37 There were workers on the roof when the fire broke out, a construction worker tells ABC 7 and TBD. They were not roofing at the time.

UPDATE 10:30 Construction damage is not significant. All four floors suffered smoke and water damage. "I'm not a curator of art," says a Deputy Fire Chief Kenneth Crosswhite. "But anytime you have smoke and water you have damage."

The fire, Crosswhite says, was in section where permanent collection and masterworks are. Sprinkler was on for 10-15 minutes, he said. That is not good for artwork.

That room is usually where Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party is kept, but Judkis says that was moved for last week's white party. 

UPDATE 10:27 Maura Judkis is at the Phillips, too. She says there are people on the roof. There was construction going on, Judkis says, and that appears to be where the fire was. She says she saw someone who looks like an employee going back into the building. There was a ladder up by one of the gabled windows on the old building.

UPDATE 10:22: D.C. Fire & EMS says it was dispatched to the Phillips Collection at 8:30 a.m. Upon arrival, firefighters discovered smoke and fire in the roof and ceiling area of 4-story building. The automatic sprinkler system controlled fire with moderate smoke conditions. It took approximately 10-15 minutes to control. There are no reported injuries.

D.C. Fire & EMS is working on overhaul operations with the curator salvaging art pieces at this time.

There are traffic delays in the area. The 1600 block of 21st Street NW is closed in both directions.

UPDATE 10:14 a.m. ABC 7's Stephen Tschida is reporting from the scene of the Phillips Collection fire, with a load of details: The fire started at 8:30 a.m. in the Collection's southern building---the complex's original home. An automatic fire alarm on the buiding's top floor went off, and D.C. Fire and EMS was able to arrive and extinguish it "fairly quickly," according to a D.C. Fire & EMS official on the scene. The blaze touched off the building's sprinkler system, damaging some works of art on the top floor. Smoke and water also traveled down into the building's lower three floors, also possibly damaging some of the Collection's holdings.

It's unclear at this point how much artwork has been affected. Tschida describes distraught-looking employees on the scene, taking artwork handoffs from firefighters who are in the southern building. The Phillips personnel is transferring the affected works to the Collection's northern building.

UPDATE 10:13 a.m.: Merging the TBD Arts post with this one. Here's what Maura Judkis has posted:

A fire on the roof of the Phillips Collection triggered an alarm this morning, and trucks were dispatched to the museum at 8:30 a.m. According to DC Fire and EMS, the fire was in the roof and the ceiling of the museum, and was brought under control within 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinklers were activated, and there were no injuries. Expect major traffic disruptions near 1600 21st Street N.W.

With he building safe, the concern now is for the artwork. TBD will continue to update this page.

The Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College recently lent a number of its most famous paintings, including works by Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jackson Pollack.

DCist quotes an employee of the museum as saying the fire was "serious."

UPDATE 9:40 a.m.: D.C. Fire & EMS is now reporting that the fire is under control.

According to ABC 7, a fire at 21st and Q Streets NW has shut off traffic in the immediate vicinity, including one westbound lane of Massachusetts Avenue. D.C. Fire & EMS is reporting that the fire broke out on the roof of the Phillips Collection. They're now "moving artwork," according to a D.C. Fire & EMS tweet.

ABC 7 is on it, and we'll give you more updates shortly.

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