A fire that broke out early Wednesday damaged a vacant factory that once produced caskets for the burials of the rich and famous, including several U.S. presidents, and firefighters expected the four-story brick structure would be razed.
Syracuse Fire Chief Mark McLees said the cause of the blaze at the old Marsellus Casket Co. factory was under investigation and was considered suspicious.
The fire was reported at about 3 a.m. By late morning, the roof and two floors of the structure most recently used as a warehouse had collapsed and smoke was billowing from the top of the building as firefighters continued to douse the flames.
"It's unusual," said Steve Cavuto, a deputy fire chief. "Typically, a fire is out in an hour."
Cavuto said six engines and three trucks manned by about 60 firefighters responded. No injuries were reported. Firefighters fought the blaze from the perimeter of the building because it was vacant.
Hot spots remained inside by midday Wednesday, and Cavuto said crews might remain for another day or two to make sure the fire was completely out. Cavuto said the structure was not salvageable.
McLees said the building's floors were made of heavy timber that was probably soaked with oil from years of manufacturing the wooden caskets.
The building has been vacant since 2003, when its owner closed the coffin maker after more than 130 years in business.
Company founder John Marsellus began custom making hardwood coffins at his woodshop in 1872. The caskets were handcrafted and renowned around the world for their workmanship.
Although the company was guarded about the names of those buried in its caskets, it did acknowledge that former presidents Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were buried in Marsellus caskets, as were Hubert Humphrey, Nelson Rockefeller, Vince Lombardi and Cardinal Terrence Cooke.
Marsellus Casket was sold in 1997 to Service Corp. International, a large funeral services company. SCI abruptly closed it seven years ago and sold the name and intellectual property to another casket company.
The building had been sold to developers but was never redeveloped.
McLees said firefighters were sent to a fire at the site at least one other time.