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Fire destroys Chambersburg, Pa., warehouse

April 05, 2001

Fire destroys Chambersburg, Pa., warehouse



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg
Photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer


Pa. fireA fire that burned so hot it chipped concrete destroyed a dry-storage warehouse Thursday.

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At least eight fire companies and more than 60 firefighters responded to battle the blaze that erupted at 12:38 p.m. at Franklin Storage warehouse at 1335 S. Fourth St., said Chambersburg Fire Department Spokesman Bobbie Gable.

Firefighters fought the blaze for about two hours, but were pulled out of the building for safety reasons at around 2:30 p.m., Gable said.

The heat got so intense that the concrete interior began chipping, and fire officials feared the building might collapse.

"We don't know if the heat got to a wall that supports the structure," Gable said.

Smoke continued to pour out of the six-story building into the evening, while water from hoses flooded the basement in an attempt to put out the blaze, Gable said.

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Firefighters were still on the scene at 9:30 p.m.

Fire officials said they believed the fire began in the basement, where bundles of cardboard were stored. Gable said he did not know what started the fire.

Terry Gearhart, the manager of the South Fourth Street storage facility, said he left the building for about 15 minutes Thursday afternoon to grab lunch, and when he returned smoke filled the stairwell.

"I ran to the parking lot and called 911," he said.

Gearhart was the only employee who worked at the facility, which used to be a cold storage building on a large lot at the end of a residential street.

He said the current inventory included a lot of Corning glassware.

A cloud of smoke could be seen from Interstate 81 after firefighters broke out the building's windows in an attempt to clear smoke from some of the structure.

Because there were so few windows, the interior of the building remained hot and smoky, making it difficult for firefighters to move around, Gable said.

"They had no visibility and had to feel where they were going and were using up their air tanks," he said.

Teams of at least three or four firefighters rotated through the building until they were pulled out.

"We believe there were tons of products on some of the floors and were afraid the weight would make the floors collapse," Gable said.

He said concerns about the similarities of Thursday's fire to one at an abandoned cold storage facility in Worcester, Mass., in which several firefighters died also weighed on everyone's minds.

"It's all very similar. The type of building, the limited access," Gable said.

Elmira Hays watched from her front yard, diagonal to the storage facility. Hays said she worked for Franklin Storage for 41 years, retiring in 1992.

She said the building was formerly a cold-storage facility that handled peaches and apples for most of the time she worked there.

Franklin Storage Inc.'s headquarters are at 2294 Molly Pitcher Highway South in Chambersburg.

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