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Hotel's walls tumbling down

October 19, 1998

Washington House HotelBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Borough officials promised Monday night that the commuter headache caused by Saturday's Washington House Hotel fire will be cleared up this morning.

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At 8 p.m. Monday, the partial demolition of the four-story building ended and the removal of rubble from Lincoln Way East and Second Street was getting under way. Borough Council President Bernard Washabaugh predicted that both lanes of the one-way streets would be open by 6 a.m.

"I think it will be before then," Emergency Services Chief Allen Baldwin said.

Earlier in the day, Baldwin would not predict when the streets would reopen. He said the borough's building inspector ordered more demolition on the third and fourth floors on Sunday night.

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"That's more than we expected we'd have to do," Baldwin said.

The reason was safety, Baldwin said. There were concerns that portions of the damaged upper floors could fall onto the sidewalk and streets, endangering pedestrians and motorists.

Washabaugh said the sidewalk around the building will remain roped off until a decision is made on what will happen to the rest of the 19th-century hotel.

"It isn't officially condemned right now," Washabaugh said. If the owners, Thomas and Charles Kalathas, decide to rebuild, Washabaugh said, "it would have to be 100 percent to code."

"Once the police are through, it's up to the owners," he said.

The investigation into the cause of the fire is continuing.

On Monday, Chambersburg Police Sgt. Diane Kelso pointed to a pile of charred rubble on the sidewalk she estimated weighed about three tons.

"We shoveled that out by hand," Kelso said. Debris from the third and fourth floors collapsed into the second floor in an area where investigators believe the fire started.

She likened that stage of the investigation to an archaeological dig, with investigators sifting through bits of debris by hand. She said borough and state police investigators will take samples of charred wood, look for burn patterns and examine wiring, searching for clues to determine if the fire was an accident or arson.

"We still don't know the origin of the fire ... I have no evidence at this time that this is a crime scene," she said.

She said an insurance company investigator will join police today.

Washabaugh said an insurance company adjuster told him he wanted a structural engineer to examine the hotel to determine if the rest of the post-Civil War building should be demolished or rebuilt.

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