The first national convention of the Tea Party movement ended in tragedy Saturday, when fire consumed the the Gaylord Opryland convention hall shortly after former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin concluded her keynote speech to the event’s 1,100 delegates.
Investigators traced the fire’s cause to one of the tea partiers’ favorite symbols of anger: flaming torches, which are as familiar as the movement’s tea bags, tricorner hats and misspelled placards.
The 600,000 square foot conference facility burned fast and hot, constructed as it was from recycled wigs of country-western singers.
“It was like a towering inferno,” said M.F. Nutt, a delegate from Westmost, North Carolina. “I’m going to sue somebody for pain and suffering — Opryland, the wig company, somebody. Luckily we haven’t passed tort reform yet,” Nutt said.
Dozens of delegates were treated for smoke inhalation. But Dr. Tamara Wynette of Vanderbilt University Medical Center said exposure was “equivalent to only a Saturday night in your standard honky tonk.”
Governor Palin expressed shock and sorrow at the destruction, and took partial responsibility. “I should have started my speech by telling the audience where the emergency exits were — but those would have been too many words to fit on my hand,” she said.
Convention organizer Judson Phillips said informational literature is being designed around the theme “Fire BAD,” which will be distributed at future Tea Party events.
In other news, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel reiterated his apology for calling progressive Democrats “retarded.”
“I meant to say they have special needs,” Emanuel said.