Starting Points: Irene Watts discussing Touched By Fire

An ongoing series wherein CWILL BC writers and illustrators connect a picture or an item to one of their books.


This is one of three photos of the remnants of a tragic conflagration. It inspired months of research into one of the worst workplace fires in New York’s history. The ten storey Asch building in Greenwich Village, housed the Triangle Waist Company on the top three floors. I read the stark details of names, ages and countries of origin of the 146 immigrant workers who perished. Rosario aged 14, from Italy, Celia and Annie, both 17, from Russia. All had come to the “Golden Land” for a better life.

They died, jumping from windows, in stairwells, from the exterior fire escape, which could not hold their weight, or where they stood by their sewing machines. Saturday, March 25th 1911, 4:45 pm, just before the closing bell.

I imagined a young Jewish girl, Miriam Markov. She had joined her father a year ago, glad to leave Russia and the pogrom that has left her terrified of fire. Miriam is hired as seamstress by the Triangle Waist Company. She has made friends and they plan an outing that evening, pay day. Most of her money she saves, to help bring the rest of the family to New York.

A voice shouts “Fire.” Flimsy garments and patterns feed the flames, windows buckle and exit doors are locked. The girls are trapped. Fire ladders only reach to the sixth floor. Who and how can anyone be saved?


Touched by Fire is written by Irene N, Watts and published by Tundra Books. It will be released in September, 2013.

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2 Responses to Starting Points: Irene Watts discussing Touched By Fire

  1. Darlene says:

    This sounds like quite the story and I imagine much research went into it. The picture has an eerie feel to it and I can see how it inspired you to write the book. Looks like a good read, I need to know what happened to Miriam. Good luck with this one.

  2. Silvana G. says:

    Dear sweet Irene,
    Thank you on behalf of your readers and of the victims of this tragedy. You’re a brave WRITER.

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