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Fire destroys country store

January 30, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Investigators believe a pre-dawn fire that destroyed the Mt. Aetna Country Store Saturday, causing $350,000 worth of damage, was deliberately set.

The charred hulk of the 60-by-40-foot business still smoked in the sun six hours after the blaze erupted.

Firefighters stood by as state fire marshals and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms inspected the ruins.

"This was incendiary," said Deputy State Fire Marshal Robert Hahn. "It appears somebody broke in," said Sgt. Denton Lowry of the Maryland State Police.

The fire began at 4:04 a.m. inside the one-story building at 10445 Mapleville Road, according to the State Fire Marshal's office. It was "fully involved" by the time firefighters arrived on the scene, Hahn said. It took them an hour to extinguish. There were no injuries.

The owner of the store is out of the country, Hahn said.

Shortly after 4 a.m., a loud popping sound awakened Thomas Kline, who lives on Mt. Aetna Road across from the store. "It sounded like shotgun shells," he said. "I thought somebody was out there getting shot."

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Kline said he went to his front door and saw the flames shooting out of the store's facade. The fire was in the central part of the building, he said. It rolled up the storefront onto the roof.

Though he was standing behind a glass door across the street, Kline said he felt his skin grow hot. "I felt the heat on my face," he said.

"I never saw something burn like that. I've seen structure fires, but that burned so fast. The thing just disappeared," he said.

At 10 a.m., a yellow tape reading, "caution do not enter" formed a border around the entire site. Tangled mounds of scorched insulation, ducts, ashes and pieces of roof lay on the ground beside the store. Purple shutters around one of the store's windows were seared white.

Kline said he builds houses for a living and he thinks the speed of the fire was suspicious. "It went up too quick," he said. It burned as if it was "made of newspaper."

Some 45 firefighters from Mt. Aetna, Boonsboro, Funkstown, Smithsburg, Wolfsville, Myersville, Long Meadow, Maugansville, Leitersburg, Washington County Air Unit, Civil Defense, Rahab Unit and Community Rescue Service responded to the blaze.

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