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Community helped business after fire

May 06, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - A Boonsboro businessman credits community support with helping him recover from an April fire that heavily damaged his small construction and outdoor equipment retail and repair shop.

"I want to make sure the community of Boonsboro realizes how much I appreciate the help they gave me," said Jimmie O'Neal, owner of Boonsboro Outdoor Power at 713 N. Main St.

The shop will re-open within a week, O'Neal said Monday.

He was working at his new Cumberland, Md., store on April 9 when sparks from a lawnmower blade sharpener ignited the blaze at his Boonsboro shop. Employees Davey Moore and Steve Strite escaped uninjured, but the fire destroyed all the tools and other contents of the repair shop. Heat from the blaze also damaged some retail items in the store's showroom area, said O'Neal, 38.

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"It was a fluke accident," he said. "It was nobody's fault."

Firefighters from Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Middletown and the Washington County Emergency Services Unit had the blaze under control within 15 minutes, Boonsboro Fire Capt. Ed Gotthardt said.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal estimated the loss at more than $100,000. O'Neal said the structural damage totaled about $30,000 and the content loss tallied about $25,000, not including his tools.

Most of the customer equipment was safely stored outside the building. The one-story brick structure's roof and exterior also were spared - perhaps due to the building's fireproof drywall, O'Neal said.

The fire barely had stopped smoldering when area residents, friends and other local business owners began calling with offers of help, he said.

About 17 people turned out to the building the night of the fire to begin clearing charred debris. One business neighbor brought sodas for the volunteer workers, and another supplied a dump truck and bobcat, O'Neal said.

"We probably did two days worth of work in five hours," he said.

A large dumpster filled with debris, trays with salvaged equipment parts and a few scattered weed eaters and lawnmowers sat in the business' parking lot two weeks after the fire.

The reconstruction effort was already well under way with new wall studs and window frames in place, and windows, insulation and drywall installation planned for early the next week, said O'Neal, who had set up a temporary office in a portable trailer situated in one corner of the parking lot.

His store's interior will look better than it did before the fire, but the aesthetic improvement isn't worth its high price, O'Neal said.

"I'd rather have it look like it did before than have to go through a fire," he said. "This is my livelihood."

O'Neal in March 2000 opened Boonsboro Outdoor Power in the building that housed Kline's Art Gallery for 31 years. He decided to open his own business after spending 15 years as a service manager at Gaithersburg (Md.) Construction Supply and repairing lawnmowers part time. O'Neal and his family now live in Cumberland, Md.

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