SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. – It wasn't your typical fire. When police responded to a report that something smelled of smoke in the middle of the night, they found an old school bus that had been converted into a supersized oven for Passover matzos — complete with a smokestack, exhaust fans and working fire.
A building inspector said that while the bakery bus wasn't nearly up to code, it was "very creative."
The derelict red-and-white bus, connected by a plywood passageway to a single-family house, was out of sight of casual passers-by in a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood and had apparently escaped the notice of authorities.
Its owner, Rabbi Aaron Winternitz, said Monday he had been making the unleavened bread there for three Passovers and was eager to do the same this year, with Passover coming up in a week.
Winternitz made them for his 50-member Congregation Mivtzar Hatorah. Observant Jews eat matzo during Passover week to illustrate how the Jews had no time to let their bread rise as they fled slavery in Egypt.
He said that the oven-in-a-bus was his invention, and that he purposely bought an old school bus because "school buses are made strong and safe."
Police Sgt. Lou Scorziello said police traced the smoke to the bus at about 3 a.m. Friday. He said the back door of the bus, formerly the emergency exit, was the oven door. "All the seats had been removed and the whole inside was an oven," he said.
A police spokesman in Spring Valley, a New York City suburb, described the setup as "a tinderbox." Manny Carmona, Spring Valley's deputy building inspector, told Winternitz that he has to move the bakery bus away at least 10 feet from the house, disconnect the unauthorized gas line that was fueling the oven and come up with documents to show that a licensed engineer had overseen the project.