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W.Va. fire ruled arson

May 01, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - An April 19 fire that destroyed an accounting and tax preparation business and heavily damaged a family-owned restaurant just north of Martinsburg was intentionally set, Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Robinson said Monday.

"We're following several leads that we have," Robinson said of the arson investigation that he and the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department are conducting at Meadow Lane Plaza.

Robinson would not comment as to how or exactly where the fire started inside the offices of Louis T. Young & Co., at Suite 2, 55 Meadow Lane.

"We ruled it incendiary (on Friday)," Robinson said.

From the accounting business, flames spread into the neighboring Meadow Lane Family Restaurant, but firefighters stopped it there after they were dispatched at 4:45 a.m.

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Three pieces of debris have been sent to the West Virginia State Police Laboratory for analysis, but Robinson said the results might not be known for a while.

Robinson did confirm Monday that the fire had been burning for some time before it was discovered.

"At this point, it's an isolated fire," Robinson said.

Robinson could not verify preliminary estimates that the fire caused about $1 million in damage because he has yet to talk to the insurance companies involved.

Plaza owner Steven R. Secrist said Monday he wasn't surprised by Robinson's ruling after he watched an accelerent-sniffing dog work in the charred remains of the accounting business.

Secrist said the dog sat down four or five times in a circular area, appearing to him as if the canine had found something.

"They didn't bring the dog all the way from the other side of the state for nothing," said Secrist, who despite the loss admitted he was fascinated by the dog's ability after the fire was snuffed out.

"I don't know what effect (Robinson's ruling) is going to have on my insurance," Secrist said.

Secrist said he was in the process of having a structural engineer assess the integrity of the building, and that he planned to rebuild.

Restaurant owners Walter and Victoria Hughes could not be reached for comment Monday, but Victoria Hughes previously indicated they had no intention of reopening the business, which opened in June 1986.

"The tax office already moved (to a location along U.S. 11), they're not coming back," Secrist said.

Bedington Volunteer Fire Department Chief Scott Schill confirmed Monday that firefighters had difficulty using a hydrant at the plaza, but said the problem did not slow their attack of the blaze and the water service district was contacted about the situation.

"We did have some problems with one of them," Schill said.

Bedington was joined in the fight by volunteer crews from Baker Heights and Hedgesville, and paid firefighters from Martinsburg Fire Department.

"At least nobody was hurt," Secrist said.

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