Fire knocks WJAL-TV off air

January 15, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

COVE GAP, Pa. - A three-hour mountaintop fire Wednesday night closed Pa. 16 between Mercersburg, Pa., and McConnellsburg, Pa.

Traffic was diverted onto Mountain Road, Pa. 75, U.S. 30 and Old Route 30 while 40 firefighters battled a fire that took WJAL Family TV 68 off the air, according to a fire official.

"When we arrived on scene, we were unable to make access with the firetrucks due to icing conditions," said John Rice, fire lieutenant for MMP&W Fire Co.

Two firefighters were transported to Fulton County (Pa.) Medical Center for minor injuries resulting from falls on the ice, he said.


The fire broke out in a 20-foot by 40-foot building that received transmissions from a WJAL tower. That tower was knocked off-line, but the aircraft warning light on a second, nearby tower continued to blink.

Firefighters were called to the property - on the Franklin-Fulton county line - at 5:45 p.m. for an automatic alarm. However, with no company representative on site, firefighters were only able to observe conditions from outside the structure and saw nothing, according to Rice.

An hour later, a WJAL representative arrived at the property and discovered a small fire. He used two fire extinguishers, but the fire had progressed to the ceiling, Rice said.

A 911 call brought firefighters back to the site.

Extra tankers were called due to the building's remote location. They gathered water from both sides of the mountain at its base.

Hoses carried the water 1,400 feet back a dirt road to brush trucks that were able to navigate on the two inches of ice. That road is on the south side of Pa. 16.

"We used maybe 30,000 gallons of water," Rice said.

The fire, which destroyed the building, will be investigated by a Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal, according to Rice.

"It looks to be electrical in nature," he said.

Responding companies were Mercersburg, McConnellsburg, St. Thomas, Greencastle, Franklin, Marion, Fannett-Metal and Metal from Pennsylvania. Maugansville Fire Department responded from Maryland, as did the Franklin County (Pa.) Air Unit.

WJAL ( bills itself as "the 4-State area's choice for family-friendly programming," including Christian programs as well as sitcoms like "The Nanny" and "Mad About You."

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