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Investigation continues in lodge fire

July 08, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Despite a ruling from a local Assistant State Fire Marshal that the June 19 fire at The Mountain Lake Lodge was intentionally set, personnel with a federal agency investigating the blaze said it is too early for them to rule on a cause.

Officials at a federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lab in Beltsville, Md., were still analyzing burned sections of the Shannondale, W.Va., lodge to determine how the fire started, ATFE spokeswoman Laura Volk said Monday.

Volk said she did not know why local officials ruled the fire arson while testing was still under way at the ATF lab.

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Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober could not elaborate Monday on how the local arson determination was made, saying the decision was made by Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Robinson.

If ATFE determines the cause of the fire was something other than arson, Boober said local investigators "have the prerogative to change our mind" about the cause of the fire.

When asked how the arson determination was made, Robinson said Monday the decision was arrived at after other possible causes of the fire were "conclusively" ruled out.

Robinson declined to say how other causes were ruled out.

"The rest of it will come out in the trial," Robinson said.

Robinson said he was confident the ATFE would rule The Mountain Lake Lodge fire was arson.

Losses were estimated at $2 million when the lodge, an impressive structure constructed of pine beams, burned in the early morning hours of June 19. The building, which housed a restaurant, pub, clothing shop and fly fishing shop, had recently been renovated and the owner wanted to do more work on the lodge, such as expanding overnight accommodations.

Lodge owner Elizabeth Houghton said the facility has been the target of vandalism before and after the fire, and Shannondale-area residents said during a community meeting last Wednesday they fear the crimes will continue if someone is not arrested.

Investigators and local residents are offering $12,500 in rewards for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

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