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Early-morning blaze destroys restaurant

January 25, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

The popular House of Kobe Japanese restaurant on Dual Highway in Hagerstown was destroyed by fire early Saturday morning, officials said.

A state fire marshal canine unit was called to the scene to check for ignitable liquids, but no results were available on Saturday, said Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown.

No one was hurt in the fire, officials said. A damage estimate was unavailable, however one fire official said the value of the damage was at least $100,000.

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The fire, which was reported at 4:44 a.m., was put out in less than an hour, officials said. Responding to the call were the Hagerstown Fire Department, all city fire marshals, Community Rescue Service, Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co. Inc., the Washington County Emergency Air Unit, Hagerstown City Police and the Washington County Emergency Rehab Unit.

Dual Highway was closed in both directions for about four hours Saturday morning from Cleveland Avenue to a stretch just past the restaurant because the fire hydrant used to battle the blaze was on the opposite side of the highway, a fire official said.

Owner Massy Hirai said he was still in shock late Saturday morning as he watched fire and insurance investigators sift through the rubble.

"We must build up restaurant right away," said Hirai, 50, of Hagerstown. "I need a place to open business right away."

Hirai said he didn't want to wait the estimated six months it probably would take to rebuild at 757 Dual Highway.

One possibility is an adjacent building he once used as a grocery store, but that is probably too small, he said.

Business had been doing well, Hirai said. Another House of Kobe was opened in Frederick last July, he said.

Saturday morning's fire was reported by Jim Rinehart, a Herald-Mail newspaper carrier, Brown said.

Rinehart, 53, of North Mulberry Street, said he and his wife, Kathleen, were coming up a hill on Dual Highway headed toward downtown when they saw a glow from behind the restaurant which is across the street from the Colton Villa Nursing Center.

They drove to the Venice Inn and had the desk clerk call 911 to report flames coming out the rear of the restaurant, he said.

About the same time, Hagerstown City Police were alerted by the restaurant's burglar alarm, Brown said.

Brown said when he arrived flames were shooting out of the roof and the back end of the restaurant was fully engulfed.

The restaurant closed Friday night at 10:30 p.m. and Hirai said everyone had left by 11 p.m.

A large section of the roof had collapsed and black soot was visible on one window beneath a Christmas wreath that was still up. Through one broken window could be seen a table set for the next meal with napkins folded decoratively inside glasses.

Piles of charred debris, including burned meal order forms and plates, were scattered around the back of the restaurant.

Later in the day, a work crew cleaned up the debris and boarded up the restaurant to discourage children from playing at the site.

Some restaurant employees and regulars stopped by Saturday morning to see what remained and to offer their support to Hirai.

"I feel so bad. I was shocked. We couldn't even believe it," said Young-Sook Anderson, 35, who had been a hostess at the restaurant for about five months.

Former Hagerstown Mayor Pat Paddack, 61, said he came out to see what had been lost. Paddack said he was a regular at the Japanese restaurant, always ordering sushi and a large Japanese salad.

"It is tragic and it's very traumatic to the family. There's lots of love and dedication and hard work here," said Sonya Marsh, 59, of Hagerstown.

Marsh and her late husband, Dr. John Marsh, were two of several close friends who helped Hirai renovate and expand the old B&L Garden Center into the House of Kobe in late 1984 and early 1985.

The couple helped install light fixtures as well as paint, said Marsh, who ate at the restaurant frequently.

The House of Kobe originally opened in the Dagmar Hotel on West Antietam Street in November 1981.

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