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Waynesboro fire called suspicious

March 05, 2006|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA.

A fire that severely damaged a downtown building a quarter block from Pa. 16 early Saturday is being called suspicious in nature by the Waynesboro fire chief.

"The investigation is continuing as far as the cause," said Ron Flegel, chief of the Waynesboro Fire Department.

The 3:30 a.m. fire in the first block of South Potomac Street gutted most of a vacant four-unit apartment building that likely was headed for demolition.

Firefighters found the building unlocked and unsecured, Flegel said.

Representatives of the building's owner, Wayne Building Inc., mentioned tearing down the structure at a Waynesboro Borough Council meeting in January. They said they wanted to create more parking behind the Wayne Building on Pa. 16.

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"The Wayne Building Co. owns from Main Street to the alley. We closed the (apartment) building down back in about October," said LeRoy Maxwell Jr., president of the company.

He said the company had considered rehabilitating the building that it has owned for more than 20 years, but it faced major repairs to the heating system.

"If we would have remodeled, we would have done major remodeling and turned them into luxury apartments," Maxwell said.

No firm decision had been made to demolish the structure, known as the Wayne Building Annex, but Maxwell said it seemed to be on the horizon.

"I think the fire made the (demolition) decision," he said.

The Wayne Building's apartments were evacuated when they filled with smoke as the three-story brick annex burned. One or two of the residents have been provided with temporary housing by the American Red Cross until smoke in their apartments is cleared, Flegel said.

"We're lucky we didn't have a real windy day or it could have been much worse," Maxwell said.

The original Wayne Building burned down in the late 1920s, and Flegel said it was rebuilt in 1930 to significantly better fire standards.

The building was rebuilt in concrete, Maxwell said.

"I was there when the original burned down," said his father, who was 15 at the time.

When the apartments on South Potomac Street were permanently closed last year, the insurance on the building had been decreased. All of the electricity had been shut off in the building, and items inside recently were removed to prepare for the probable demolition.

Maxwell and Flegel said the building once was a restaurant. It later was occupied by Ben's Amusements, which maintained pinball machines in the area.

"It's been there as long as I can remember," Flegel said when interviewed in the South Potomac Street fire station just a few hundred feet from the annex building.

Each of the apartments was given its own street address, so the building is 7, 9, 11 and 13 S. Potomac St.

Flegel said the fire appears to have started in apartment 11, which was on the second floor.

That apartment and the third floor were completely gutted, and the roof collapsed in the rear of the building. The section of the second floor that faces the road and the entire first floor remained intact, although Flegel said they sustained damage.

Flegel did not know who reported the blaze, which is being investigated by the Waynesboro fire marshal.

Several Waynesboro streets were closed through 9:30 a.m., including a few blocks of Pa. 16 west of center square.

Firefighters cleared the scene Saturday at 10:42 a.m. They continued to monitor the structure for hot spots throughout the day.

About 110 firefighters with 18 pieces of apparatus responded from Greencastle, Blue Ridge Summit, Mont Alto and New Franklin in Franklin County. Crews also were dispatched from Long Meadow, Leitersburg and Maugansville in Washington County, and Emmitsburg, Md.

Also responding were transfer crews from Marion and Franklin, both in the Chambersburg area, as well as a Franklin County Air Unit and Washington County Mobile Canteen Unit. Waynesboro's ambulance squad and police department also assisted.

"I don't think I've seen that many firetrucks in Waynesboro in a long time," Maxwell said.

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