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'Worst nightmare' comes true

February 23, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

BOONSBORO - It was their worst fear realized.

Boonsboro town officials said they always knew that if one of the town's downtown buildings caught on fire that several others could be consumed by the blaze. The buildings - some dating to the 1700s - were built so close together, officials said it was likely that an entire row could be destroyed.

"There was always the concern that if that ever happened, (the fire) would go straight down the street," Boonsboro Town Manager Debra Smith said. "We were always afraid of something like this, and it's happened."

Mayor Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr. called Friday's destruction his worst nightmare.

"We always feared this happening because of the age of the buildings, and they're so close together," he said.

Hours after a fire destroyed several historic buildings in downtown Boonsboro, town officials said they were devastated.

Having put their "heart and soul" into revitalizing Main Street, Smith said a lot of progress had been made to improve the downtown area.

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Romance novelist and longtime Washington County resident Nora Roberts co-owns the historic Boone Hotel that was destroyed by Friday's fire. Officials have said the fire started in the hotel, at 1 N. Main St., and spread to neighboring buildings.

Renovations were ongoing to convert the vacant hotel to an inn that was scheduled to open in June, Smith said. A construction crew was in the building Friday morning when the fire started.

Smith said that before Roberts and her husband, Bruce Wilder, bought the hotel, the building had been in disrepair for years, and the town actively had worked to find an owner interested in restoring the property.

"Nora (Roberts) has got to be completely devastated by what's happening here today," Kauffman said.

Roberts and Wilder purchased the 9,000-square-foot property in 2007, according to state property records. The couple also owns 3 N. Main St., 5 N. Main St. and 2 S. Main St.

Fire officials have said that 5 N. Main St. and 7 N. Main St. also were severely damaged by the fire.

Roberts' family settled Thursday on the purchase of another downtown building along Main Street, Smith said.

"We're beyond square one now," Councilman Kevin M. Chambers said, referring to the destruction of several downtown buildings.

State Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said town officials have prioritized improvements to downtown ever since he first was elected in 1998.

"They've come so far," said Shank, whose district includes Boonsboro. "To have this in a blink of an eye is just devastating."

Officials said Friday's fire was the largest and most destructive they can remember in town.

Looking out the window of Boonsboro's Town Hall, Smith described the scene as a "war zone."

Town Hall and the library next door had smoke damage, but both were untouched by the flames.

"It's just so overwhelming," she said.

This was not the first fire to damage downtown Boonsboro buildings. Smith said there previously were two minor fires in the historic Boone Hotel.

Ted's Place, at 5 N. Main St., had about $1,500 in structural damage when fire spread through the walls of the 100-year-old building in December 2005. Neighboring buildings had some smoke damage.

Fire caused about $300,000 in damage to Asaro's Pizza & Sub Shop at 4 N. Main St. in January 2007. Smith said renovations to that building recently were completed to repair damage from that fire. The windows of the shop, and several other buildings, were destroyed by heat from the fire across the street Friday.

"People are saying you can just rebuild and make it better, but how many times are you supposed to start over?" Smith said.

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