The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 3, 2012

Major fire destroys downtown Beckley buildings

BECKLEY — Crowds of bystanders stood in bitterly cold temperatures Monday evening as smoke hung thick in the air and an orange glow radiated from Uptown Beckley. Crews from multiple fire departments responded to a massive fire that consumed three buildings on the corner of Neville and South Heber streets, across from the new Raleigh County Judicial Annex.

The buildings, home to two businesses, Trio Consignment and Kopy Xpress, were destroyed and still burning late Monday night.

The third building formerly housed The Blue ‘Roo and is owned by the city.

Beckley Fire Department was on scene with seven trucks just minutes after a call reporting smoke coming from the back of one of the structures was received at the 911 Center shortly after 5 p.m. Beckley Police cordoned off the area to allow crews to battle the blaze from all sides.

Crews from Beaver and Lester fire departments as part of the city’s mutual aid protection agreement and Mountaineer Gas and The Salvation Army were on-scene, according to Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh.

The fire, which Beckley Fire Chief Kevin Taylor said originated in the center building, quickly spread engulfing all three structures.

Firefighters tried to make an offensive attack by gaining entrance to the building, but low visibility and heavy smoke forced them back out, Taylor said. The fire quickly spread to the basements and rooftops of the buildings as well, leaving crews fighting the flames defensively from outside.

After discovering the buildings were a complete loss, crews shifted their focus to containing the existing blaze and protecting neighboring buildings that housed businesses as well as apartments.

Buildings in close proximity were evacuated, Taylor said.

“Our No. 1 goal is to fully extinguish the fire, deal with the debris and then begin our investigation into what caused the fire. As of right now, it appears to be accidental, but it’s too early to tell,” Taylor lamented.

“This was such a heavy fire load, we are  not going to be able to put it all out. It will have to burn itself out and a multi-story building like this can burn for hours so now all we can do at this point is protect the surrounding areas and keep the fire contained,” Taylor said.

Not only did the fire present a problem for firefighters, the cold weather did, as well.

“We already experienced numerous problems since beginning the battle. A fire hydrant we needed to use was frozen solid and all the connections on our hoses that we would normally use to break away or expand are totally frozen,” Taylor said.

The chief said he was thankful no injuries were reported while Pugh expressed his appreciation for the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to fight the blaze.

“Our thoughts and prayers are always with our firefighters when they do their jobs in these dangerous situations,” said Pugh.

Beckley Fire Department will lead the investigation into the cause of the fire.

Register-Herald Copy Editor Bill Lucas contributed to this article.

— E-mail: kvanpelt@register-herald.com

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