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Man charged with arson in Chambersburg building fire

December 29, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

A man is being held in Franklin County Prison on $500,000 bond in connection with a fast-moving blaze that gutted a building on Lincoln Way East Wednesday afternoon, Magisterial District Judge Gary L. Carter said Wednesday evening.

Robert Smith, no age or address given, of Chambersburg, was charged with arson by Chambersburg Police, Carter said.

The two-alarm fire at 978 Lincoln Way East was called in shortly after 1 p.m. The three-story stucco building, owned by MK Hennessy and Associates, housed a day-care facility for developmentally-disabled adults on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor. Lincoln Way (U.S. 30) was blocked in both directions for about three hours.

The fire apparently was set in a sofa in the first-floor activities room, according to Pennsylvania State Police in Chambersburg.

Damage is estimated at $200,000, police said.

A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal, Trooper Jeffrey Sarver, was on the scene, according to Chambersburg Fire Department Assistant Chief Robert Murray. Two firefighters were taken to Chambersburg Hospital for treatment of minor burns to the face and neck, Murray said.

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Owner Mike Hennessy stood on Lincoln Way East as firefighters cut holes in the roof to check for more flames. The building, which he has owned since 1999, does not use natural gas, he said.

Chad Conklin, who is the home-based care provider for one of the clients at the facility, said his client was out delivering papers at the time of the fire.

Mike Hoffman, Matthew Hoffman and Mike Franklin, who were doing construction work at the orthodontist's office next door, said they had come out the back door for some tools when a female worker from next door, accompanied by a male client, said the smoke detector was going off, and asked to use their cell phone.

"We saw smoke and we yelled to ask if anyone was in there, and we ran through," Mike Hoffman said. "The flames were too far (along) for me to put out. The smoke was bad. I took a deep breath and ran in. I didn't see anyone."

The men then ran up the outside steps to the second-floor apartment to tell the tenant the house was on fire. The tenant, Amy Schemmerling, and her two cats escaped unharmed. Another tenant, David Gigliotti, had left for work about 1 p.m. but returned to the home when Schemmerling called him about the fire. The couple said they would be staying with friends tonight.

Mike Franklin commented on the speed at which the blaze moved. "There was nothing, then in five minutes there were flames shooting out three sides of the building."

Employees of Century 21/Hometowne, across the street from the blaze, saw the blaze early on. Pat Jacobs said she was returning to work from lunch when she saw "big flames at the back of the building."

Brenda Woodring said she heard a boom from the back of the burning building.

Another employee, Francine Gibson, said "watching firefighters walking through the flames to get into the building in real life, not in a movie, puts in perspective what they do."

Chambersburg, Fayetteville, Franklin Fire Co., West End Shippensburg, New Franklin and Marion fire departments responded to the blaze, as did St. Thomas and West Shore ambulances.

Staff writer Don Aines contributed to this story.

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