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Cause of Blue Ridge Summit warehouse fire still undetermined

January 29, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, Pa. - Six months have passed since a major fire caused severe damage to a National Book Network warehouse and investigators have not come up with an official cause.

Sgt. Vernon Ashway of the Washington Township Police Department is leading the investigation into the cause of the Aug. 12 blaze that damaged part of the 100,000-square-foot warehouse building.

So far, the unofficial cause is that it's undetermined but with probable human involvement, Ashway said. That could mean the fire erupted from an accidental cause, negligence or arson, which he said this week he has not ruled out.

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"I'm not saying it was negligence, intentionally set or arson, but there is some kind of human involvement," he said.

Ashway said he sent physical evidence to the Pennsylvania State Police for evaluation and expects to get a report back soon.

The fire, water and smoke destroyed or damaged between 1.4 million and 1.7 million books inside the warehouse, company officials said at the time. Many of the books were eventually salvaged, said National Book Network Executive Vice President Irving Myers, whose office is in Lanham, Md.

Myers said operations in the warehouse were back to normal within a few days of the fire, thanks to the efforts of employees.

Myers said he won't be able to estimate the cost of the damage until all claims are settled. Ashway said about 15 insurance companies are involved.

The fact that a cause has not been determined has resulted in added expense at the warehouse, Myers said.

"Not knowing the cause has ended up costing us money because we had to beef up security after the fire. We have two guards on duty 24 hours a day," said.

He said if the cause had been determined as arson and the suspect had been caught there would be no need for added security.

Myers also said he is pleased with the work that the Washington Township Police Department is doing with the investigation.

"I believe they gave it their all," he said.

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