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Cause of Jacob's Pillow Fire Officially 'Undetermined'
Staff Reports,
05:30PM / Tuesday, February 16, 2021
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The Monterey Fire Department posted this image of the fire on Nov. 17.

BECKET, Mass. — The destruction caused by the fire at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival last fall was so severe the cause cannot be determined. Officials pointed to failures with the alarm and sprinkler system as factors in the fire damage.
 
The morning fire on Nov. 17, 2020, burned the Doris Duke Theatre to the ground. It took six fire companies nearly two hours to contain the blaze. 
 
In a statement issued Tuesday, State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, Becket Fire Chief Paul Mikaniewicz and Becket Police Chief Kristopher McDonough said is officially "undetermined" after an "extensive investigation." 
 
The 6:50 a.m. fire destroyed the 1990 theater, the smaller of the two performance buildings at 358 George Carter Road, with damage estimated at $3 million. There were no injuries.
 
Investigators determined that the fire started around the patrons' entrance to the building. Whether it started on the exterior or interior cannot be determined because of the extensive damage. It is possible that improperly discarded smoking materials or electronic equipment inside the entryway ignited the fire.
 
"In Massachusetts, we follow the National Fire Protection Association standard for fire investigation, which requires us to first determine where the fire started and then to systematically eliminate all possible causes at that location,” Ostroskey said. "When we cannot eliminate all but one most likely cause, the standard requires us to classify the fire as undetermined."
 
The fire alarm system had been in failure mode since Halloween, so there was no immediate notification to the fire department, according to officials. Sprinkler analysis found that the sprinkler system may have worked for about 30 minutes before the pump failed. This same pump also operated the fire hydrant, which did not function. This led to a short delay in establishing sufficient water supply and flow. Firefighters established a tanker shuttle system to obtain water to put out the fire and used a pond on site.
 
"The delayed notification coupled with the failure of the fire sprinkler pump caused extensive damage before the fire department arrived. This fire had a grip on the building before we were even notified of the fire," said Mikaniewicz.
 
Members of the Becket Fire and Police departments and state police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal jointly investigated this fire. This investigation has concluded. The insurance company is following up on the separate issues pertaining to the sprinkler systems.
 
The 30-year-old theater opened in 1990 as the Pillow's first large studio with 216 seats. It was used for developing new work in class, rehearsals, and performances. Liz Thompson, who designed and built the Inside/Out stage at Jacob's Pillow, was the catalyst for constructing the Doris Duke Theatre.
 
The dance festival has said it will rebuild the theater. 
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