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Berkeley County fires destroy businesses

July 08, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Tuesday morning fire destroyed the All American Unfinished Furniture Co. in the Berkeley Plaza Shopping Center, the second blaze in two days to damage a Martinsburg business.

Monday's fire destroyed the Video Invasion store in the Newbraugh Shopping Center.

Bedington Fire Co. Chief Robert Robinson said the Berkeley Plaza fire was reported at about 4:30 a.m.

When firefighters arrived, flames were rolling from the front of the building, officials said.

The fire appeared to have started in the back of the store and is believed to have been accidental, although a state fire marshal had not yet begun an investigation, officials said.

Robinson said the front and back doors were locked when firefighters arrived.

The fire caused one front window to explode and others "melted back into sand," Robinson said.

Firefighters were concerned the building would collapse after one wall fell in and steel support beams began to bend, Robinson said.

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"See that steel beam?" Robinson said Tuesday, pointing into the burned-out building. "There was just so much heat it just bowed it."

Firefighters fought the blaze from outside instead of attacking the interior because the building was not believed to be safe, Robinson said.

The fire was fueled by wood furniture and by paints, varnishes and furniture finishes stored in back, Robinson said.

The building did not have sprinklers.

Business owner Gerald Barger estimated his loss at $50,000 to $100,000. Damage to the building, owned by the shopping center, had not been determined Tuesday because inspectors couldn't get inside, Robinson said.

Barger's business originally occupied one store in the plaza and expanded to two adjoining stores.

The three stores shared a common door and while most of the fire was contained to one area, the other two sustained smoke and water damage, Robinson said.

The fire also got into insulation between an old roof and a newer one above, Robinson said.

A business next to the furniture store, the Seaside Tan and Nail Salon, sustained smoke damage. The salon is owned by Donna Hubbard and her husband, who also own the Video Invasion store destroyed in Monday's fire.

"Two ugly calls, two mornings in a row," Hubbard said Tuesday afternoon from her other Video Invasion store in the Old Courthouse Square shopping center in Martinsburg.

The fires left her near tears, but customers had been wonderful to her throughout the day, she said.

"I'm taking my phone off the hook tonight," Hubbard said with a smile.

The burned-out video store contained about 10,000 videocassettes and 1,500 video games.

"Thankfully, no one was hurt," Hubbard said. "It's just misfortune."

Monday's blaze also damaged the offices of Panhandle Home Health Care and the West Virginia Division of Correction and Parole.

Deputy Assistant State Fire Marshal Jerry Swayne said the damage in Monday's fire was estimated at $100,000 to $200,000. Investigators were still trying to determine the cause of that fire, he said. Swayne said he wouldn't be able to begin his investigation into the Berkeley Plaza fire until later this week because he is out of town.

Bedington firefighters sealed off the burned-out furniture company building Tuesday and put out a small fire Tuesday afternoon when flames rekindled in the roof.

Barger said he plans to reopen in a vacant store in Berkeley Shopping Center as soon as possible.

Robinson said all Berkeley County fire companies as well as the Williamsport Volunteer Fire Co. and the Washington County Air Unit fought the blaze.

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