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Fire destroys Martinsburg, W.Va., eatery

April 20, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Cooking liver and onions for someone's breakfast at the Meadow Lane Family Restaurant wasn't out of the ordinary for co-owner Victoria Hughes.

A fire early Thursday destroyed the restaurant and a neighboring accounting business in Martinsburg.

"We made all our stuff from scratch. ... I was usually there by 5 a.m.," Hughes said of her routine for nearly 21 years.

By the time she arrived Thursday, flames were destroying the business that her husband, Walter, had bought for his wife at 12 Meadow Lane.

"I did the cooking, he did the paperwork," Hughes said.

The Martinsburg couple opened the restaurant a short distance from their home in June 1986, four years before he retired from Allegheny Power.

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"I enjoyed it," she said.

Though her husband recently had been "after her" to retire, Hughes said she was waiting on a sign from God to tell her when.

That sign, she believes, came Thursday.

"I keep telling myself that this is the way its supposed to be," Hughes said while investigators led by Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Robinson scoured the fire's "area of origin" with the assistance of an accelerant-sniffing dog in the charred remains of Louis T. Young's tax preparation and accounting business.

Robinson would not say whether the fire was accidental or intentional. He indicated his investigation was in the early stages and that the dog's presence was standard procedure for fires that result in significant losses.

"I estimate at least $1 million in damage here," Bedington Volunteer Fire Department Chief Scott Schill said.

Schill said firefighters who were dispatched at 4:45 a.m. were able to stop the blaze from spreading south of the restaurant into adjoining offices occupied by Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Eastern Panhandle.

Volunteer crews from Baker Heights and Hedgesville, W.Va., joined Bedington and paid firefighters from Martinsburg Fire Department, Schill said.

The offices for Big Brothers Big Sisters received smoke and heat damage and the neighboring offices had minor smoke damage, Schill said.

A fire wall between the accounting business and the restaurant slowed the fire's southward advance, but didn't stop the flames from licking around the front side of the building and into the restaurant, Schill said.

"The fire had to be burning for some time before it was called in," Schill said.

While sanding soap box derby cars, Jeff Edwards thought he was hearing animals rummaging through the garbage outside the basement of Maxlock Locksmith Service Inc. in the Plaza's neighboring strip of businesses, he said.

"I just kept sanding," Edwards said.

The noise continued, which caused him to go outside to check the garbage cans.

"I looked up and saw fire coming out of the windows," said Edwards, who called 911.

Schill was the first to arrive and said the fire was already well involved. The windows of the accounting business had come out of their frames and the front wall appeared ready to fail, Schill said. The fire wall was not adequate for the accounting business, which appeared to be an addition, Schill said.

Schill said firefighters were able to salvage files in the basement of the tax business and some heirlooms and cash from a safe in the restaurant.

Hughes said they recovered a table, but she wasn't as concerned about the loss as much as the restaurant's nine employees who effectively lost their jobs. She doesn't plan on reopening.

"We had a lot of good girls who worked for us," Hughes said. "We'll be fine."

Young was not available to comment. Robinson and other officials said the business owner was receiving treatment at a hospital for unrelated health concerns.

Though deeded to M & D Group LLC of Shepherdstown, W.Va., according to Berkeley County Courthouse records, Steven R. Secrist confirmed he was the plaza owner and purchased it in 2004. He said he plans to rebuild.

"Somebody didn't want their taxes seen by the IRS," Secrist said when asked about the cause of the fire. "That's what I thought."

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