Coming back into town about midnight last night, the first clue I had that something was wrong was that they had blocked off Water Street at the first light into town. At this point, I realized that the yellowish cloud over town was not a nighttime summer inversion of the gravel plant plume, but rather the smoke from yet another of Bellefonte's semiannual structure fires, some hundred-year-old building going up in fire as the result of ancient wiring or the misadventures of some ill-attended rugrat in low-rent housing. After following the traffic around the detour on the other side of Spring Creek, I came back into town and slowly crossed the bridge on High Street, noticing a couple of guys peering down off the bridge into the creek below, just down the street from the other side of the barricades on Water Street. I went on up and parked my car on my street, and came back to the Spring Street barricade to find out what had happened.
The guy manning the barricade - an emergency SUV pulled across the street, with a set of little hand-sized flashing red lights, like elaborate fire-alarms, arrayed across the pavement in a line - was a fireman, looking pretty bored at his picket duty. He tried to tell me what had happened - the "chemical company behind the Unimart on Water Street" had burned - but I got confused about what he was talking about, and kept asking if it was the abandoned Piezo-Kinetic plant further down the Axemann road. Anyways, it seems that there was a little chemical company - plant or warehouse, I'm still not exactly sure - back in that compound that I had thought was entirely the property of a car-repair place on Water Street. It looked pretty much like a dead loss from what I saw of it driving by this morning. Apparently it was full of industrial-strength cleaning chemicals - a lot of acids, mostly - and the fire was feared to have spread industrial poisons about pretty liberally.
The barricade-guy said that we were supposed to stay in our homes, close the windows, and turn on the air-conditioning while turning off the circulation fans. Since I don't have air conditioning, I was pretty much shit out of luck, but we agreed that the chemicals in question were most likely to be heavier than air, and that the noxious clouds shouldn't generally be able to make the climb up the hill I live on. Must've sucked to have been one of the people living in those houses under the bluff below Stoney Batter, though. The radio folk were talking about the possibility of a fish kill on Logan Run, which runs right behind the building in question, but the ducks in Tallyrand Park looked alive and well when I drove past this morning. We'll see if the enormous catfish below the pond at Tallyrand survive the accident.