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Help to heal Boonsboro's wounds

Government officials explore options to aid town's recovery from fire

Government officials explore options to aid town's recovery from fire

February 26, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

BOONSBORO - Boonsboro Mayor Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr. said the town was wounded by a fire Friday that ripped through several downtown buildings.

Local, state and federal officials pledged support Monday and offered help in the form of grant programs and government aid.

"We need your help," Kauffman said. "We don't want your sympathy. We want your help, and we're not too proud to ask for it."

Kauffman showed the group that included Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., what was left of the historic Boone Hotel. The building, which was the source of the fire, was gutted by the blaze that caused about $2 million in damage to seven buildings along Main Street.

The fire was the worst in the town's history, First Hose Co. of Boonsboro Chief Oley Griffith said. Three families were displaced by the blaze.

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Kauffman said he has been pleased with the response from local, state and federal lawmakers in the wake of the fire.

"We were wounded," he said. "We were wounded bad on Friday. But we're going to come back, and come back better than ever."

Kauffman said Monday's meeting was a chance to hear what agency assistance, grants and other aid might be available to the town.

Town Councilman Richard E. Hawkins Sr. said Boonsboro needs funding to run its electrical wires underground. During Friday's fire, the blaze knocked down power lines that supplied power to parts of Boonsboro and Keedysville.

Hawkins said that with power out in Keedysville, firefighters didn't have access to a backup water supply they needed. Firefighters put out the fire in about an hour and a half, but were on the scene into the night.

Running the lines underground will be a costly venture for the town, according to Tony White, communications director for Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Hawkins said the town also needs at least two generators. On Friday, the fire station -- which is about one block from the fire -- lost power along with the rest of the town. Firefighters were able to get only one truck out before the doors closed, and they had to open them manually, delaying their response to the fire, Griffith said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said the fire was "devastating," and pledged to help the town at the state level.

"The state of Maryland is 100 percent behind Boonsboro," said Israel C. "Izzy" Patoka, executive director of O'Malley's office of community initiatives.

Representatives for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Planning, the Maryland Historical Trust and other agencies offered their support to Boonsboro. Julianna Albowicz, assistant to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., was there, along with local officials, to offer assistance.

Kauffman said the meeting was the first step in developing a "plan of action" for clean-up, aid and rebuilding.

Cardin said that U.S. Department of Agriculture grants might be available to help local businesses recover. Similar aid was given to Mount Airy, Md., and Cambridge, Md., after separate fires devastated businesses and homes in those towns, he said.

"The town is hurting," Cardin said. "And we are all in this together. Federal aid can be part of the solution."

Town Manager Debra Smith said the first priority is helping residents who lost their homes in the fire.

Longtime Washington County resident and romance novelist Nora Roberts, who co-owns the historic Boone Hotel with her husband, Bruce Wilder, has asked for a way to contact those families to offer aid, Kauffman said.

Wilder said Monday that the couple will continue their plan to convert the building into an inn. Kauffman said he was pleased by the couple's optimism.

"I'm just so proud to be mayor of this town," he said.

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