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Charitable mission in Pa. destroyed by fire

September 19, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

Aerosol cans of Lysol disinfectant - perhaps hundreds of them - blew up periodically inside the charred shell of a warehouse in Hamilton Township on Wednesday, part of the estimated $2 million in donated food and household goods destroyed in an afternoon fire.

"It was GODS Mission. That's an acronym," T.J. Cover said when describing the building. The letters stand for Giving Others Dedicated Services, she said.

The charitable mission she and her husband, Art, incorporated in the summer of 1990 was dealt a blow by the fire that ripped through the 120-foot-by-50-foot warehouse. It contained food, household cleaners, paper products, personal hygiene items and other goods, she said.

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Four dogs and 14 puppies died in the fire, Cover said. Three dogs survived, she said.

The fire apparently started in a burn barrel a few yards from the Covers' house at 4987 Guitner Road, T.J. Cover said.

"We were burning trash ... I watered it before I left. I dumped water on it," she said of the burn barrel lying on its side a few yards from the back porch. Checking the time of her cell phone calls, Cover said she left the house to go to Hagerstown at 2:35 p.m., and she got a call from Brett Barnes, a young man staying with them, at 3:04 p.m.

Barnes said he saw an outbuilding next to the warehouse on fire and called in the blaze. He tried using a garden hose to put it out, but it spread to the larger building, he said.

"When that fire hit the roof and it started to flame, I knew we were in trouble," said Brett's father, Donnie Barnes.

Firefighters from at least a dozen companies and departments in Pennsylvania and Maryland were called to the fire. Tankers shuttled water in from the nearest fire hydrant off U.S. 11 and a rainbow appeared in the mist from a ladder truck hose trained on the caved-in structure.

Inside, a shopping cart and burnt palettes of goods could be seen among the rubble and a small stream of murky water flowed from a side door. The Covers said there were two forklifts, two all-terrain vehicles, a 1940 Ford tractor, a log-splitter, a lawn tractor and other lawn equipment inside the building.

Firefighters faced hazards other than the exploding aerosol cans. There was a fuel oil tank inside, along with propane tanks, Donnie Barnes told Gary Himes of the Franklin Fire Co .

Tankers and other pieces of equipment from the Franklin, St. Thomas, Greencastle Rescue Hose, Newburg-Hopewell, Marion and Mont Alto fire companies, as well as the West End and Vigilant Hose companies from Shippensburg, Pa., and the Chambersburg and Waynesboro fire departments lined Guitner Road. Firefighters from Long Meadow and Maugansville also responded, as did the Franklin County Air 10 Unit.

"We helped people that don't qualify for conventional food pantries," Cover said. "People who fall through the cracks."

"People work. They just don't make enough to eat and do everything else," Art Cover said. "It's pay the bills or eat."

"A lot of people depend on it," said the Covers' son-in-law, Thomas Hartmire.

T.J. Cover said they started by helping three families. As the mission expanded, it moved from a shed to a garage, then to a storage building added onto the garage in the late 1990s.

The Covers, who provided the loss estimate, said the building and its contents were insured. As Hamilton Township Supervisor Mike Kessinger operated a front-end loader to begin knocking down the ruins, T.J. Cover said a new storage facility likely would be built at a different location.

Art Cover wondered aloud how many of the people they have helped over the years will show up now to help the mission. Whether they do or not, he said, the work will go on.

"The good Lord will take care of us," he said. "He always has."

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