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Investigation into cause of museum fire close to being finished

July 26, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
  • Ed Gotwalt, owner of Mister Ed's Museum, stands in what used to be an area attraction for 35 years. Mister Ed's was destroyed by fire earlier this month. Gotwalt says he will rebuild.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer,

ORTANNA, Pa. -- A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal says he's wrapping up his investigation into an early July fire that destroyed Mister Ed's Elephant Museum on U.S. 30.

Fire Marshal Jeff Sarver said he expects Aug. 5 will be his last day at the site. He'll be joined by an electrical engineer and a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technician.

"Everyone who is involved (in this investigation) is top in their field," Sarver said.

The fire marshal considers the blaze's cause to be suspicious.

"We don't see anything to lead us to believe it's accidental. ... We're close to figuring out what happened," he said.

Owner Ed Gotwalt previously said he was asleep late July 5 when he heard a neighbor pounding on the door to say the store was on fire. The business featured candy and gift sales, as well as a free-admission museum containing elephant collectibles.

Sarver said he believes the fire broke out in the candy room. A few other investigators have been involved in the probe in the weeks since the fire occurred.

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The fire was difficult for firefighters to fight because the box-like rooms created heat pockets, plus the building was wrapped in tin, Sarver said earlier.

Gotwalt, who said he hosted 50,000 visitors a year, has plans to rebuild. He estimated he lost half of the more than 10,000 elephants he collected since receiving the first as a gift on his wedding day.

The museum was in Adams County, Pa., about 15 miles west of Gettysburg, Pa., and 12 miles east of Chambersburg, Pa.

According to published reports, the location near the Franklin/Adams counties line is the second for Gotwalt. A fire in 1984 burned the first store two miles away.

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