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After the fire at the Peón Contreras theater, what’s next?

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Some fire damage can be seen on the ceiling of a side balcony following a fire at Mérida’s historic Peón Contreras theater. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

Updated 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2:

Walk by the Teatro José Peón Contreras and you’d never know there was a fire the day before.

Except for some caution tape at a side employee entrance, and a few police cars idling nearby, the historic theater site appeared normal. From the outside, the only fire damage to be seen was on the ceiling of a south-facing balcony.

The roof of the Teatro José Peón Contreras shows only soot the morning after a fire that struck the historic theater. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Soot could be seen on the roof, with the help of a drone camera. Lights were on at the ground-floor restaurant, which was open for business.

The restaurant within the Peón Contreras appears open the morning after a fire on an upper-level of the building made headlines. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

Officials have not commented on the condition of the performance area, and if scheduled productions are viable.

The Teatro José Peón Contreras shows little sign of exterior damage the morning after a fire that threatens the remainder of the symphony season. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

While the fire appeared contained to the top floor, water and smoke could have damaged lower levels of the building.

A ladder truck helps firefighters reach the blaze at the Peón Contreras theater Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Facebook

5 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2:

The state and federal governments are pledging to help restore Mérida’s famed Teatro José Peón Contreras after a fire damaged much of the building late Tuesday afternoon.

The fire was attributed to a short circuit and appeared confined to the upper floor. 

The building — a major hub of Mérida culture — was closed when the fire started, and employees were evacuated, with no injuries reported. 

A fire damaged parts of the Teatro José Peón Contreras Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Facebook

No flames were visible from the streets, which were blocked off by emergency personnel. Dense clouds of black smoke could be seen for miles, rising from the roof. Damage to the auditorium, dressing rooms, and stage was not reported.

While streets were blocked off, firefighters used a ladder truck with a pump capable of delivering more than 4,700 liters of water per minute to douse the flames. 

The blaze possibly endangers the second half of the Yucatán Symphony Orchestra season. A “Scottish Fantasy” performance was planned for Nov. 11. The theater has been the official home of the orchestra since 2004, where it stages philharmonic, operatic, and ballet performances.

Mérida’s Teatro José Peón Contreras. Photo: Getty

Today, officials are expected to inspect the entire building to see what of the year’s cultural calendar can be salvaged.

The fire has made headlines internationally. Shortly after the fire was reported, the heads of the state and national ministries of culture pledged their support to restore the theater. 

“We regret the fire at the Teatro Peón Contreras, the only property in the Mexican southeast declared an Artistic Monument since 1977, a jewel of architecture and cultural life in Mexico,” said Alejandra Frausto, head of Mexico’s Ministery of Culture. 

Mérida’s Teatro José Peón Contreras. Photo: Courtesy

The theater, modeled after an Italian opera house, is one of Yucatán’s most treasured historic landmarks. Inaugurated in 1908, the Peón Contreras theater was reopened in the 1980s after massive renovations.

In addition to performances, the Peón Contreras is a part of social history: In 1916, the country’s first Feminist Congress was held at the theater. 

Tuesday’s fire is not the theater’s first. In 2009, it cost 3 million pesos to repair the stage after a fire wrecked floorboards, curtains, technical equipment, and scenery for the opera “The Barber of Seville.”

The theater, on Calle 60 and 57 in the historic center, is named for the Yucatecan playwright and writer, José Peón Contreras (1843-1907).

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