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Fire destroys Berkeley Springs store

July 09, 1998

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer

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Fire destroys WV storeBy LISA GRAYBEAL / Staff Writer

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - A fire at a Berkeley Springs shopping center gutted one store and threatened to spread to others Wednesday before firefighters brought it under control about four hours after it erupted.

The fire at the Morgan Square Shopping Center broke out at about 7 p.m., apparently in the Family Dollar store.

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Firefighters battled the blaze for hours, and volunteer fire companies from the Tri-State area were called to the scene hours after the first call went out.

The fire reportedly was under control at 11 p.m., officials said.

Firefighters were called to the shopping center off U.S. 522 just south of Berkeley Springs at about 7 p.m. when an employee at Family Dollar discovered a fire in the rear of the store, said Amy McCumbee, assistant manager.

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Smoke billowed from the rooftop of the shopping plaza at 9:30 p.m., as firefighters worked from all angles, trying to stop the fire that appeared to be spreading, said a firefighter from Orleans Fire Department.

The Family Dollar store was gutted, and firefighters were concentrating their efforts on the Food Lion store and several smaller stores connected to one another within the same shopping area, fire officials said.

Employees at Holiday Hair, who were watching the firefighting efforts along with more than 100 other spectators, said they had alerted fire officials that highly flammable chemicals, including hair spray and hair coloring solutions, were stored at the business.

Customers and employees were evacuated from all of the businesses soon after the fire was reported, fire officials said.

Just before 7 p.m., McCumbee said she was in the back of the Family Dollar store when a co-worker ran over to her and yelled "fire," she said.

That was when she noticed flames and smoke coming from the ceiling, she said.

She ran up to the front of the store to call 911 while her co-worker grabbed the fire extinguisher and headed back to try to put out the fire, McCumbee said.

McCumbee then ran next door to the Food Lion store to get help, she said.

"I've never been in a situation like this before," said McCumbee, of Warfordsburg, Pa., who's worked at the store for four years.

Her co-worker was taken to War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs after she began hyperventilating, McCumbee said.

When employees at Food Lion heard about the fire, they evacuated the store immediately, said Kirk Stotler, a store employee.

He estimated about 30 shoppers were in the grocery store at the time.

Holiday Hair Stylist Tonya Martz said she was in the middle of giving a haircut when a woman opened the front door and told them about the fire.

"I looked out the back door and I could see flames and smoke coming out of the roof. That's when I shut the back door and got out," Martz said.

Ambulances and fire trucks filled the shopping center's parking lot and Morgan County sheriff's deputies began moving people away from the scene.

"A lot of people rely on this. It's the only shopping we've got," said onlooker Phyllis Berens, of Berkeley Springs.

The shopping center opened in June 1990, according to several store employees.

The Goodwill store, next to Family Dollar, opened just a few months ago. Georgie's Pizza, at the opposite end of the center, recently added a family dining room, Berens said.

Food Lion renovated the store within the last year, she said.

"It's a shame," Berens said.

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