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Sunshine, mirror nearly burn shop

Sat., Aug. 27, 2005

The antiques in Timeless Treasures were nearly toasted treasures Friday when the morning’s sun rays sparked a smoldering fire inside the shop on Fourth Street in Coeur d’Alene.

The rays streamed through the large east-facing picture windows and were caught by a concave shaving mirror placed on a table about 5 feet from the windows, said Glenn Lauper of the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department. The furniture had been arranged exactly so for about a week or so, said the shop owner, but the sun’s path is more southerly each day.

Through the wonders of physics, the sunlight’s reflection was transformed into a concentrated beam that burned a track through a $5 tablecloth and cardboard box placed nearby.

“There was a beam about a quarter-inch wide,” Lauper said. “It was just leaving this burned part of cardboard and cloth across this box …

“Had it got going, we would have had real difficulty figuring out the source of ignition.”

It never did more than smolder, thanks to a man walking his dog up the street who noticed smoke curling up inside the shop. Coeur d’Alene firefighters were dispatched to the antique store at 7:45 a.m.

“It came in as a structure fire,” Lauper said, “so we sent everybody.”

After the ladder truck arrived, they called off the emergency response but invited everyone to come at a more leisurely pace and witness the unusual phenomenon.

“It’s something that’s rarely seen,” said Lauper, who’s taken a fascination in the event that could only be shared equally by firefighters and scientists. Paper ignites at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, he said, but how hot did that tablecloth get?

Grateful shop owner Martin Davis has given the blackened tablecloth and mirror to the fire department so they can conduct their own experiments.

But he was less in awe than feeling blessed that someone happened to walk by at just the right time and see the smoke.

“We just praise the Lord,” he said. “We could have lost it all.”


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