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W.Va. fire kills 4

April 11, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

A man, a woman and their two sons died early Thursday when fire spread through their two-story home on Washington Street in downtown Berkeley Springs, fire officials said.

Although authorities said they could not release the names of the victims, a relative identified them as Charles Diehl, 39, his wife Faith or "Faye," 39, and their sons Charlie, 14, and Jon, 11.

A puppy, two cats and two pet turtles also were kept in the house, said Ann Young, daughter of Faith and stepdaughter of Charles Diehl.

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The blaze was reported at about 3:08 a.m. and there was heavy fire in the home when firefighters arrived about eight minutes later, said Dan Unger, chief of the Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Department.

"There was fire coming out every window of the structure," said Unger, who lives on nearby Harrison Avenue. "When I left the house, I could see the glow."

Firefighters hooked up a line from a nearby hydrant and began spraying water on a house next door to prevent it from catching fire, Unger said.

A second engine carrying more firefighters arrived about three minutes later and began battling the blaze at the house at 251 N. Washington St., Unger said.

It took between 30 and 40 minutes to knock down the fire, Unger said.

The first body, believed to be that of one of the sons, was found just inside the front door leading into the living room, said Unger and assistant state Fire Marshal Ed Robinson.

Charles Diehl was found in a bed upstairs, his wife was found in another bed in the room and the fourth body was found on the floor between them, Robinson said.

The bodies were not removed from the house until about 8:30 a.m. to give state fire marshals time to investigate the scene, Unger said.

Robinson said it appeared the fire started in a sofa on the first floor, although it was unclear what ignited the sofa.

The cause of the fire will be listed as undetermined unless new information develops, Robinson said.

It could be at least a week before positive identification of the bodies can be made, Robinson said. He said dental records of the four people probably would have to be obtained to make the identification.

Fire trucks, firefighters, investigators and others were still at the scene at mid-morning Thursday. Light smoke drifted from the charred house and firefighters were walking in and out of the home.

The house still was standing, but the windows were gone and siding had melted off in the front. Parts of beds, twisted metal, wood beams and other debris were scattered in the front yard.

Police and other officials directed traffic around the scene, which is along the town's main thoroughfare.

Local residents chatted with each other, and some cried as they remembered members of the Diehl family.

"I thought the world of them. They were very nice to me," next-door neighbor Winona Shade said.

Shade said she got out of bed to take her medication about the time the fire started and a firefighter began pounding on her door.

"I looked out and the flames were just licking out this way," Shade said.

Shade said she was taken up the street to wait in a car until firefighters extinguished the blaze.

Debbie Jenkinson, a neighbor who lives on the other side of the Diehls, said her dogs woke her up and she saw flames coming out the front of the house.

The house was owned by Melvin Peck, who came to the scene Thursday morning.

It was the second fatal fire in the Eastern Panhandle in less than two weeks. On March 30, Mary Jo Crawford, 73, died when fire spread through her home in the John Brown Farm subdivision on the Blue Ridge Mountain east of Charles Town, W.Va.

State Fire Marshal Mack Dennis later said the cause of the March 30 blaze probably never would be known because of the extensive damage to the home.

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