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Ranson store damaged by fire expected to open today

August 04, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

RANSON, W.Va. - Workers at the Southern States store along Mildred Street where a fire caused about $500,000 in damages Saturday morning are working to set up temporary retail operations in a warehouse and expect the store to be open today.

Meanwhile, a fire official still believes lightning caused the 4:20 a.m. blaze, but is waiting for a state Fire Marshal's office investigator to arrive today to make a definitive ruling.

Independent Fire Co. Chief Ed Smith said he believes lighting struck the rear of the store at an electrical panel box.

Firefighters entered the store's showroom which was filled with heavy smoke and they were able to get the blaze under control in about 20 minutes, Smith said.

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Smith said it was fortunate that the fire did not spread into areas where fertilizers are stored, which could have caused all sorts of environmental problems, or into areas where pesticides are kept.

Besides the showroom, the fire also spread to a grain storage area.

To help the store get back into business and restock its grain supply, the store was expecting to get five tractor-trailer loads of grain between Sunday and today, said store manager Dave Murphy.

As a temporary set-up, the store will move its operations to a separate warehouse behind the main building and hopefully have it operational today, Murphy said.

Employees likely will hand-write tickets for retail sales today and hopefully a temporary trailer can be moved onto the store's property by Wednesday at the latest, Murphy said. The trailer will have a cash register inside, Murphy said.

Store workers are now faced with removing damaged merchandise from the storeroom and its unclear if the showroom will be renovated or rebuilt, Murphy said.

"We're going to stay in the Charles Town area," Murphy said.

The Southern States store is considered to be a profitable operation that generates about $8 million annually, Murphy said.

Much of the store's business is providing feed and related supplies for race horses at Charles Town Races & Slots, said store employee Chris Mahoney.

Track clients place orders for supplies and the store makes deliveries to the track twice a week, Mahoney said.

Mahoney, one of about 25 workers at the store, said a large bang which sounded like a lightning strike was heard in the area when the fire started.

"The lady living up here said it shook her house," said Mahoney, motioning behind the store.

Sixty-six firefighters from 13 fire companies in Berkeley and Jefferson counties and parts of Virginia responded to the blaze, Smith said.

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