The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 11, 2013

Early Sunday fire destroys four buildings in downtown Marlinton

MARLINTON — A fire tore through several businesses and at least one apartment building in Marlinton early Sunday morning, according to Pocahontas County’s 911 Center. By Sunday evening, reports said the fire was under control.

A dispatcher said the fire was on Main Street and affected four buildings. Most of those were businesses. The fire caused several people to have to leave their apartment building. Calls for the fire came in around 2:30 a.m., according to dispatchers.

At least 12 fire departments were on the scene. A dispatcher said volunteers responded from Greenbrier, Nicholas, Randolph and Webster counties. All fire departments and EMS squads in Pocahontas County were also on the scene.

The town’s mayor told Gibbs Kinderman of Allegheny Mountain Radio that the town lost a good chunk of buildings.

“It’s a terrible night, just terrible,” Mayor Joe Smith told Kinderman. “We have lost a whole block and it’s just a terrible day. The fire burned through the Hudson’s building, all the way through the McKay building.”

Smith told Kinderman that the fire departments had barriers set up to keep the fire from spreading.

“We also have some tanker trucks here now, and we sent for eight more departments to come with tanker trucks,” Smith said. “We have some outlying tanks that are not tied to the town and consequently we’re shuttling water back into town by tanker truck. The water plant is pumping water; we’re just using more water than what they can produce.”

Smith told Allegheny Mountain Radio that he had experience as a firefighter and going from his experience, he said they had the fire at least 40 percent contained by the afternoon.

Angelo Jiordano of Allegheny Mountain Radio shared one witness’ experience of the event in a radio report.

“The McKay building, or the old bank building, has several apartment buildings on the upper floors,” he said. “One resident said she woke up smelling smoke and within 10 minutes firefighters were pounding on her door. Afterward, she asked firefighters when she might be able to go back in and see what’s left. She was told that nothing is left.”

By the end of the day, the fire was almost completely out, Smith said.

“There was a total of four buildings that were totally destroyed,” he said. “Just the four. We were able to confine it to one block. There were no deaths. To my knowledge, there was only one injury and that was a fireman who was overcome by smoke.

“The fire is under investigation currently by the state fire marshal. They’re on the scene and they will be there (Sunday) evening and they will probably be there tomorrow.”

Smith said a crew would be on scene to make sure the fire doesn’t pick up steam again.

“I was told that they were going to keep one engine on the scene during the night to snuff out hotspots,” he said. “The buildings caved in, so there’s a lot of debris and it’s windy, too. When that wind blows, it flares up.

“Three of the buildings were two stories tall and the largest building was three to three-and-a-half stories tall.”

No damage estimate is ready at this time, but Smith says he knows the fire is going to have an economic impact on the town.

“We put some businesses out,” he said. “Some businesses lost their facilities. Twelve or 13 families got displaced because of this fire today. It will have an economic impact. As to how much, that’s very hard to say.”

One man said he watched the whole thing from beginning to end and was even able to take some photos and video.

“I live above State Farm Insurance and that’s right on the other side of Main Street,” Warren McLaughlin said. “I’m diagonal from the first building that caught on fire. If you want to look me up on Facebook, I’ve got some pretty killer pictures and video.

“I was up for the whole thing. I’ve got pictures and video from when it first started this morning until the big crowd kind of gathered. The whole block had burned up by then. I’ve been up all night. I didn’t really get any sleep. I’m tired and I’ve been stressed. I about broke down and cried several times. It’s been an emotional night. I had my 5-year-old son with me.”

McLaughlin said he didn’t really believe that the fire was even happening at first.

“I was just getting ready to go to bed when it came across the scanner and said that the fire was across the street at First Citizen’s Bank. I can see that from my bedroom window, so I ran up and looked and didn’t see anything. You could hear the firemen coming into town and going into the fire station. A couple firemen showed up and started looking around the bank for the fire. They’re saying the same thing I’m thinking: ‘I don’t see anything.’

“It was very shortly after that where you started to really see the fire and the smoke coming out of the building beside it, it’s Hudson’s Variety. You could see the smoke coming out from under the roof. Whoever called it in probably thought it was coming out of the bank instead of beside it because the wind was blowing that direction. That was one thing that probably did save me was the wind.

“About 45 minutes into it, I did start smelling wood burning and rubber burning and you could really smell the fire. I decided to get my son out of here and took him across town to my mom and dad’s and then I came back. By the time I came back, the smoke was rolling out of it pretty good. It had Main Street pretty smoked up. I could barely drive in. Sometimes I would have to shut my window because it was so bad. You couldn’t see across Main Street. It was pretty wild.”

McLaughlin said he started to really worry when he noticed that the fire was spreading.

“An hour, hour-and-a-half into it, you really started to see some flames there,” he said. “They kept fighting it and fighting it. They had several ladder trucks there. It came across the scanner that firefighters and tanker trucks were coming from surrounding areas. Once it started burning and picking up, it spread to the store next to it, which is the Dirtbean Cafe.

“That poor girl lost everything. Her cafe was the downstairs portion and then she had an apartment that she lived in above it. She lost her home and her business. After it spread past it, it spread to Nationwide Insurance and wiped it out. There’s an apartment complex on the corner that used to be the old bank. Everyone was all wondering whether everyone was able to make it out of that. I’ve got several friends that lived in there and you’re worried about that and it was just crazy.

“There were just so many firefighters. I swear that it looked like there were 100 to 150 firefighters that were out there. If it hadn’t been for the water that people were bringing in and the water being pumped out of the river, we’d have been screwed. I can’t even take a shower, brush my teeth, wash my hands, or anything like that because the water is drained so low.”

Crews are bringing in some equipment to tear down what’s left of the buildings, McLaughlin said. He says he just wants to get some sleep after the stressful weekend of an uncertain future.

“They have Main Street blocked off so they can bring equipment in to knock those buildings down since they’re brick,” he said. “It was falling while it was burning. The water hoses were knocking it down and it was just falling down too. It’s a mess. It wiped out the whole block.

“I’m just tired from not getting to sleep and freaking out and worrying if it’s going to spread and burn my place. I don’t have a lot, but what I do have, I’ve worked hard for. I have all of my kid’s stuff and everything like that. You don’t want to lose that stuff. I’ve worked hard to get where I am.”

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com

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