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Man dies in auto shop fire

January 11, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Officials were trying to determine the cause of a Saturday morning fire that claimed the life of a person inside Glenn's Auto Repair and Towing at 1306 West Virginia Ave.

Two men in the building that housed the towing company office fled the burning building and reported the fire at 7:04 a.m.

A third person, believed to be a mechanic who worked for the business, died in the fire.

Cpl. Gary Harmison of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department said the body would be sent to Charleston, W.Va., for identification to be made with the help of dental records.

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Harmison said officials were "leaning toward (an) accidental" cause of the fire.

"We're saying the cause is undetermined but we have ruled out electrical and the furnace that heated the building," Harmison said.

Business owner Glenn Smith estimated damage at $100,000, Harmison said. A Honda car housed in the building also was destroyed.

The fire caused slight damage to Smith's home, Martinsburg Fire Department Capt. Eddie Gochenour said. The fire was just outside Martinsburg city limits.

Outside the still-smoldering remains of the building at mid-morning Saturday, Ed Robinson of the West Virginia Fire Marshal's office conferred with Capt. Dave Brining of the Martinsburg Fire Department.

Investigators took turns digging through the wreckage and trying to stay warm in the sub-freezing temperatures. The water used to fight the fire was frozen in the driveway and out onto Thompson Street, which runs perpendicular to West Virginia Avenue.

A representative of a funeral home arrived shortly after 10 a.m. to take the body from the scene.

Brining said it was his understanding that since the towing business operates around the clock, there is always someone in the building in case a call would come in.

"That building is pretty much destroyed," Brining said.

Rick Jones, a neighbor on West Virginia Avenue, said he went up to Glenn's early Saturday when he first heard about the fire.

"I asked Glenn's daughter if the garage burned up," Jones said. "She said 'yes, along with the mechanic' and then she started to cry."

Gochenour said seven firefighters were originally called, but he called in off-duty personnel, so about 23 firefighters worked the blaze.

Gochenour said it was at least 15 minutes before firefighters knocked down the fire in the building, which was approximately 50 feet by 30 feet.

Several acetylene torch tanks blew out during the fire, he said.

Staff writer Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.

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