Wolf Trap Farm Park officials yesterday met with political leaders to find ways to salvage the summer entertainment season and rebuild the gutted theater as they fielded hundreds of calls promising financial support ranging from local groups to movie star Elizabeth Taylor.
Because of gale force winds that rekindled several small fires at the destroyed Filene Center, investigators temporarily halted their search for the cause of Sunday's blaze.
As 85-year-old Catherine Filene Shouse, who donated 117 acres and $2.3 million to build the theater, was closeted with officials from the Interior Department, Fairfax County fire officials said the open-air theater did not meet state fire safety standards. Because Wolf Trap is federally owned it is exempt from state and local fire codes and inspections.
"That building would not have been allowed to be constructed under the state code," said Fairfax fire Cpt. Ronald Peck. He said Wolf Trap's large amount of wood that was untreated with fire retardant chemicals, the lack of an automatic sprinkler system and the building's towering ceilings violated the Virginia building code.
Wolf Trap officials announced the formation of a Wolf Trap Phoenix Committee organized by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity. The committee, which includes Virginia Sen. John Warner and Rep. Frank R. Wolf, met with Shouse yesterday to discuss ways to raise money and design a new theater.
Wolf Trap officials also announced that the June 8 gala opening of the summer season would occur as planned, probably at Wolf Trap.
National Park Service officials yesterday revised earlier estimates about the extent of the automatic sprinkler system in place at the time of the fire. "It was actually about 5 percent complete at the time of the fire," said Joe Lawler, chief of visitor services at 11-year-old Wolf Trap, the country's only national park for the performing arts, and a member of the park's safety committee.
"We had very little in terms of a detection system," said Lawler. "Really not much more than a guard performing a fire watch."
Lawler said that the wood--western cedar--was not treated with a fire retardant chemical because Park officials believed it would discolor the wood. "The wood was chosen for its aging qualities and the way it would look when it aged," he said. "The treatment was not applied because it would prevent the wood from attaining the silver gray color."
Lawler said fire inspections at Wolf Trap are performed by a Park Ranger who "is not a safety professional. Fire safety is one of his collateral duties. Very few parks except Yosemite or Yellowstone have full-time professional fire inspectors."
Park service spokesman Sandra Alley said yesterday that the ranger had performed a general safety inspection in late February and had not noted any "serious fire hazards."
Federal officials and fire safety specialists say standards governing open structures like Wolf Trap are less stringent than those for enclosed structures like theaters and hotels because it is easier for people to escape from open-air structures in the event of a fire.
"Interior's policy is to comply voluntarily with local standards or national, whichever are more stringent," said John Hast, Interior safety manager. "We don't always have the money to do it. All of our facilities do not meet all the standards. Normally, it's because of funding."
"We would never operate a facility knowingly if we knew there was some life threatening situation," Hast said.
Leroy B. Spivey, chief safety manager for the National Park Service, said Wolf Trap met standards to safeguard lives. A sprinkler system was being installed to provide additional protection to property, Spivey said.
Park Service officials have said that despite five previous fires there, until this year Wolf Trap lacked the $286,000 necessary to install a sprinkler system. Chief Fairfax County fire marshal Charles Dismuke said county officials recommended Wolf Trap install such a system in 1971, shortly before the park opened and after a major fire caused an estimated $600,000 damage.
"You'd think after they saw there was a problem the first time around with the fire," said one local fire official who asked not to be named, "they'd have gotten the message and put in sprinklers."
Bob Smale, chief of the arson division of the Virginia State Police, said yesterday's search for the cause of the fire was halted because it was feared that high winds and flying steel beams could cause the collapse of what remains of the Filene Center. He said that the Fairfax County fire department was called twice yesterday to extinguish two small fires whipped by high winds.