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Landlord offers help

July 28, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

The owner of a Hagerstown apartment building heavily damaged in a fire Monday afternoon is taking steps to help the seven tenants who lost their possessions.

"It's just been very difficult for them," Mark Webb said Tuesday.

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Webb said he has set up a bank account for the tenants who lived in five apartments at 59-61 W. Franklin St.

He said donations can be made to The Franklin Street Fire Victims Fund at all Home Federal Savings Bank branches. Donations will be used to help the tenants get back on their feet, Webb said.

The Maugansville Ruritan Club has agreed to receive donations of household items, said Webb, who is a purchasing agent for US Airways.

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Anyone wishing to donate furniture or other items may contact Webb at 301-797-6568. He said he will get them to the Ruritan building.

Webb, of Hagerstown, said he also plans to hold a fund-raiser. "I just want to help these people," he said.

Webb bought the West Franklin Street building four years ago and said he had replaced the plumbing and electrical systems within the last year. He said he had insurance on the building, which sustained damage of $300,000 by his estimate.

He said he's not sure whether he will rebuild, saying he was waiting for an insurance evaluation.

"They're going to let me know if it's salvageable," he said.

Webb said that when he walked through the rubble of the turn-of-the-century building Tuesday, he saw portions of the roof lying on the floor of a fourth-floor apartment.

Water damage throughout much of the building will be a factor in his decision, he said.

"Water can do just as much damage as fire," said Webb, who also owns rental properties in Boonsboro.

The local chapter of the American Red Cross put up several of the tenants in motels Monday night and fed them.

Red Cross spokesman Cindy Kline said assistance will be available until those who were burned out can find new housing.

Some tenants moved in with friends temporarily, fire officials said.

Fire investigators are continuing their efforts to find the cause of the two-alarm blaze.

Hagerstown Fire Marshals Tom Brown and John Hersh went to the building several times Tuesday. They are interviewing witnesses and former residents of the building.

"We know the fire started on the rear exterior portion of the property," Brown said.

It spread to all floors of the building through rear windows, prompting a second alarm.

Webb said he expects fire marshals to notify him of the cause today.

Blondies Santa Fe Restaurant and Boutique, a Mexican restaurant that closed about three months ago, had been on the first floor of the building.

There were six apartments in the top three floors. Five of the apartments were rented, Webb said.

An alley beside the building, the sidewalk, parking spaces and one traffic lane in front of the building will remain closed until damaged walls are taken down or stabilized.

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to an attached building that houses the office of State Farm Insurance agent Steve Swayne on the ground floor.

Swayne's office was damaged by smoke and water, according to fire officials.

Calls to that office Tuesday were answered by an answering machine.

Monday's two-alarm fire marked the second multiple-alarm fire for the Hagerstown Fire Department in 1999.

The previous two-alarm fire this year was on May 3, when an apartment building on East Wilson Boulevard was heavily damaged in an early-morning fire that investigators said was deliberately set.

Since 1988, the Hagerstown Fire Department has responded to 16 multiple-alarm fires within city limits, including Monday's fire.

There were four in 1988, three in 1991, two each in 1989, 1994 and 1996, and one in 1993.

In all other years since 1988, there were none.

In multiple-alarm fires, the first firefighters on the scene need help with such things as trapped people or to prevent flames from spreading to other buildings, according to fire officials.

Staff Writer Kimberly Yakowski contributed to this story.

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