Meanwhile, firefighters were trudging through the place and shouting at the GCN staffers to stay out. The firemen were worried that the sagging ceiling might collapse; the GCN people were more concerned that their damaged files might fall into the wrong hands. There was a collective sigh of relief down on Broomfield Street when a soaked but legible copy of the paper’s subscription list was recovered. “Thank God the police didn’t find that,” said one.
“The office is a complete loss,” said managing editor Cindy Paton, on the job for her first full week. “But we’ll continue publishing. The 10th-anniversary issue will be thinner than we’d planned, but we’ll get it out. Except for the Blizzard of ’78, we’ve never missed an issue.” Patton was “shell-shocked,” she said, but Nancy Weschler, a member of the GCN board of directors, was displaying a stronger emotion. “Under the shock and depression,” she said, “there’s just an incredible amount of anger that some person or some group thought that they had the right to burn out our building. It’s one thing to have a political disagreement, and a whole other thing to destroy those you disagree with, to say they don’t have a right to exist. There has to be a public outcry about this. Otherwise we’re all in trouble. Everybody. Your newspaper, too.” GCN reporter Larry Goldsmith, meanwhile, was skeptical that the Boston Fire Department arson squad would investigate the fire fully enough. The paper’s offices, after all, have been shot at and vandalized in the past, he noted, and when troublemakers have barged into the place, the police have taken an hour or longer to show up. “The reaction of the cops has been, ‘You have to expect this sort of thing,’” he said.
While the burned-out tenants of the building’s second floor were calling for a full and complete investigation of this fire, which they immediately saw as an obvious, open-and-shut case of homophobic arson, the fire department would not even concede, for the record, that it was “suspicious.” Kenneth Bruynell, the department’s public-information officer, said the fire caused an estimated $500,000 in damage, but stressed that the cause is listed as “undetermined.” And though the arson squad is, indeed, investigating, he said, this fact alone should in no way be construed as a message that the fire was likely to have been set. “There were a lot of allegations made by some of those GCN people, but they couldn’t back them up,” Bruynell said. Yes, the fire did start on the second floor, he said, but “there is a lot of electrical equipment in a newspaper office, and somebody might have forgotten to turn off a machine or something. It’s also an old building with electrical wiring throughout. Some of it could have been overloaded. We have to look at all these things.” A fire is only listed as “suspicious,” he said, “if there is some concrete reason to believe that someone has set it.”