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Bill Cotter

Biosphere - after the fire

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It does remind me of the NYS pavilion except for one thing. The Biosphere has been saved, renovated and is thriving as both a visitor destination and an iconic symbol for Montreal.

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I've always found it odd that the acrylic skin was completely destroyed by the fire while the tubular skeleton remained virtually unscathed. I have the feeling restoring the Biosphere to its current condition was much less costly than it would be to restore the NYSP to a viable usable structure.

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I've always found it odd that the acrylic skin was completely destroyed by the fire while the tubular skeleton remained virtually unscathed. I have the feeling restoring the Biosphere to its current condition was much less costly than it would be to restore the NYSP to a viable usable structure.

I think the skin burned very quickly and thus didn't do massive damage to the framework. As the pictures show anything that could burn like the sides of the escalator were prettty well destroyed, but I think the fire traveled across the dome itself fairly quickly.

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There was probably very little in the way of combustible material inside the dome at the time of the fire. It had been used as an aviary for a period of time after Expo ended. There was a good deal of plant material in there at one point but when the fire happened in 1976 I am not sure if the dome was even in use.

Also, there is an interesting display on the uppermost level of the Biosphere today which documents its construction and the fire. One can still see the openings in the dome where the Expo mini train would pass through. That mini train was still in use the summer of the fire.

This was not the only Expo pavilion to meet its demise by fire. The Ontario pavilion (which stood between the pavilion of Quebec and the Canadian Katimavik) also burned after Expo closed.

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I think the skin burned very quickly and thus didn't do massive damage to the framework. As the pictures show anything that could burn like the sides of the escalator were prettty well destroyed, but I think the fire traveled across the dome itself fairly quickly.

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Just found this photo of the outer skin on fire.

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In the lower left corner of that photograph of the dome on fire one can still see the flagpoles erected for Expo outside of the US Pavilion. At the time of the fair they held the flags of all fifty states. Those flagpoles are long gone today. The main Metro entrance to the Park is quite near to where this photograph was snapped.

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If you go to youtube and type in biosphere on fire you can view a 16 second clip of the biosphere on fire.Not a great video . Its a very crude video.

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That fire sure showed a major design flaw of the dome, in that it apparently didn't have any sprinklers or way to limit the fire when it started. Once it started climbing up the plastic cover the sphere was doomed. Happily this happened when it wasn't full of people or it could have been a real disaster.

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Not only the absence of a sprinkler system but lack of a fire-retardant material to create the skin of the sphere. As you said, lucky the thing wasn't teeming with fair-goers when the fire occurred.

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I suspect that when the US Pavilion was constructed there was a strong belief that it would have been demolished at the close of the fair. That was the usual course of action after the close of virtually every fair ever held. Therefore, it was probably built as a "temporary" structure without much attention to long term safety features. The dome was presented to Canada on July 4, 1967, by President Johnson, however, and the rest is history. However, there was no clear direction as to what the next use of the dome might be. The images of the fire at the Ontario Pavilion are just as dramatic. I doubt any of those remarkable buildings contained any significant safety features.

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I believe the NYWF required the same sprinklers and safety equipment as permanent structures. That would seem to be a good idea, as a fire won't care if it's a short-lived building or not.

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I wonder what the fire and safety codes really were in those days. I would also guess that the codes may not have been the same in Quebec as they were in NYS in the 1960's. But that is just a guess. There may have been some sort of fire prevention system in Expo pavilions but after the fair closed the use of each structure changed each year and who knows what safety maintenance was provided at that time. Fires can destroy virtually any structure regardless of the preventive measures architects, contractors and designers take.

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Some time ago I was told that the fire was started by a worker weilding a blowtorch who was repairing a portion of the steel frame. The acrylic skin itself was covering up the exterior of the building so sprinklers would have been useless in this case. Of course, by today's construction standards such a material would not be allowed.

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To all,

Here are few answers to the previous questions:

1) The Biosphere burned on Thursday May 20th, 1976 between 2:00 pm and 2:30 pm. Man and his World park was not open yet at this time of the year.

2) It burned so quickly that the geodesic dome structure didn't collapse. However there were damage to it that we can still see today.

3) The minirail was no longer passing through the dome in 1976. The welder was actually closing the minirail openings that day.

4) There were sprinklers to prevent this kind of fire but everything was experimental in this building so it was just another device that didn't work well in this concept.

5) The plastic skin was considered as a high risk combustible material from the begining in 1966. But nobody ever imagine at that time how high the risk was.

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Hi, and welcome to the forum. It's always great to have others interested in Expo 67 join us. Were you living near the site when the fire occured? I bet it was something to see indeed.

Bill

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Hello Bill!

I'm glad to join you on this forum.

No I was not there that day (fortunately or infortunately). I'm living about 80 km from the Biosphere.

I've been there several times when it was abandoned. It was fascinating and I must admit, I'm still fascinated after all those years.

Louis

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