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Fire destroys Pa. community center

February 07, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

KAUFFMAN STATION, Pa. - Fire destroyed the Kauffman Community Center building early Saturday in a blaze that firefighters don't believe was suspicious.

Vernon Widder, a charter member of the Kauffman Ruritan Club, which owns the one-story, 80-by-100-foot concrete block building, said the fire may have started in a heat pump.

An insurance investigator and the Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal will meet at the site on Ruritan Drive Monday to probe the blaze, said Robert Ebersole, chief of Rescue Hose Co. No. 1 of Greencastle, Pa.

Ebersole and several witnesses said the entire roof was in flames and collapsing when the first units arrived. The alarm was called in around 12:20 a.m. by a motorist on U.S. 11 who saw the flames.

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Widder, 72, lives behind the building. He said he came home at 11:40 p.m. Friday and saw nothing suspicious. According to one witness, several neighbors said they smelled smoke around 11 p.m.

Ebersole said the fire could have been smoldering for several hours, building up heat before it broke through to the air and flashed up.

Widder thinks it could have started above the ceiling in the building's heat pump unit. The center, which is often the site of Saturday estate auctions, was empty this weekend.

He said the building and its contents are insured but didn't know whether it would cover all of the loss. "It's totalled," he said.

Widder said construction on the building started in 1978. The trusses collapsed during construction. Two workers were injured and construction was delayed for months, he said. The center opened in 1979.

It cost $120,000 to build and equip, Widder said. "We won't be able to replace it today for that price. Look how prices have changed since then."

Widder said Ruritan members will meet soon to decide how to rebuild the center. The club has about 35 members.

It raises money for charitable works by hosting dinners and renting the building for such events as weddings and parties.

The Ruritans fund scholarships, and donate to community organizations like the fire department, Salvation Army, literacy groups, Scouting organizations and to individuals in need.

Wilbur Sell and his wife, Rose, stopped by to see the damage Saturday afternoon. They are regular volunteers at the Ruritan banquets. All they saw were parts of four walls standing and piles of charred debris.

The walls can't be salvaged, Chief Ebersole said. "There's been too much heat. They're cracked."

Sell observed, "It burned everything that will burn."

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