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Fire in apartment guts historic home

August 03, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A historic home in Middleway that had been converted into two apartments was gutted by a fire Friday evening, but those who lived there and their pets were able to escape, firefighters and witnesses said.

The fire started in the upstairs apartment as a young woman, Natassia Chilcott, fried chicken, said Donnie Dawson, assistant chief of Citizens Fire Co. in Charles Town. The grease caught on fire and spread to cabinets after Chilcott tried to douse the fire with water, he said.

At the scene, Chilcott sat on the steps of the Middleway United Methodist Church as a paramedic bandaged her feet, which she said were slightly burned in the fire. She refused further medical treatment.

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Her puppy, which Chilcott grabbed from inside the apartment, rolled in the grass nearby, playfully biting at people who petted it.

Dawson said little from the home, which may have been built as far back as the 1700s, will probably be salvageable. He said the home was worth around $200,000, and the contents were worth about $50,000.

Black and white smoke billowed from the home and could be seen from Martinsburg. An emergency dispatcher told fire crews unfamiliar with the area to follow the smoke.

Barefoot children mingled with the firefighters, giving out bottles of water. Volunteers with the church and two fire companies set up a table in the church's parking lot, offering fried chicken, crackers, chips, bananas, water and wet towels. The church is across from the home on Queen Street.

Volunteers with South Berkeley Fire Department arrived on the scene first, Dawson said. They tried to go inside the home, but intense heat drove them back, and firefighters then had to attack the blaze from the outside.

Firefighters sprayed water through broken windows, and others on a ladder truck sprayed from the roof.

About an hour after the fire started, firefighters used axes to break apart window frames and entered the second story from the tin roof. One firefighter suffered a steam burn on his neck, but refused treatment, Dawson said.

When Barbara Cape, who owns the house and lived with her boyfriend on the bottom floor, arrived, a firefighter retrieved a bottle of medication and a few other items from inside for her.

Cape's boyfriend, who was home when the fire started, grabbed their cat and a few guns before leaving, a friend of the couple said.

Dawson said he had driven by the home about 10 minutes before the fire and was getting ready to eat dinner when the call came in.

"It's probably one of the oldest houses in Middleway," he said, adding that fire spreads more quickly through older homes.

Firefighters responded from several other companies, including Independent in Ranson, Shepherdstown, Blue Ridge Mountain and Clearbrook, Va.

An Allegheny Power worker also was on hand, since several wires were close to the home and at least one thick wire was severed.

Middleway is off Leetown Road in Jefferson County.

The fire was reported at 5:22 p.m.

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