A suspicious four-alarm fire seriously damaged one of Oceana’s oldest buildings.

“It is suspicious due to inconsistencies in some of the statements,” explained Robbie Bailey, assistant state fire marshal. “It will stay ‘suspicious’ until I can work some of these differences out.”

Bailey said the fire started in one of the upstairs apartments.

“We were very fortunate... there could have been some serious injuries or deaths with this fire,” Bailey said.

Bailey lauded the efforts of Oceana Police Department Patrolman Terry Brumfield, who went into the burning building several times to alert residents to the fire.

Brumfield likely saved a dozen people, according to Oceana Police Chief Ed Cozort.

“Someone stopped him on the street and told him about the fire,” Cozort said. “He went into the building and beat on the doors.”

He heard screams and returned one final time, but “a wall of smoke knocked him to his knees,” Cozort said. It turned out, the screams were coming from outside the building.

The fire marshal’s investigation is continuing and anyone with information is asked to phone the Arson Hotline at 1-800-233-FIRE.

Wyoming County Emergency Services Center registered the call at 11:22 p.m. Feb. 5, according to Director Dean Meadows.

“It had been burning for awhile when we got there,” according to Oceana Volunteer Fire Department Chief Arvin Drake.

Most of the fire damage was contained to the upper floor apartments, but the street level businesses sustained major water and smoke damage, Drake said.

Three other volunteer fire departments — Cyclone, Pineville and Upper Laurel — were called in due to the size of the fire, Drake explained.

“We had so many men going in and out, we needed more air bottles and air masks,” he added. “It was such a big building — a big fire — we knew we were going to be there all night. We needed more man power.”

Firefighters remained on the scene for more than 13 hours, but the blaze was extinguished when they left. Drake did not think there would be the continuing smoldering as with the fire that took MountainHeart Community Services in nearby Matheny a few weeks ago.

Oceana’s old hotel building contained four businesses — Cook Licensing Service, The Flower Garden, C.V. Feller Insurance, and a Christian radio station — along with nearly a dozen apartments, Drake said.

Many of the apartments were empty, Drake said, because the residents only use them during the week while they are working in the area.

The few residents who were in the building at the time of the fire were evacuated without incident, Drake said.

American Red Cross representatives assisted those residents with finding new housing, he said.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One Upper Laurel fireman sustained a cut to his hand and an Oceana firefighter twisted his ankle.

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