Three-alarm fire destroys Clear Spring row homes

15 fire and rescue companies responded to fire

July 29, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
  • Firefighters in two aerial ladder trucks battle a fire Thursday on Cumberland Street in Clear Spring.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

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o History goes up in smoke in Clear Spring

CLEAR SPRING --Police and firefighters were on the scene of a Thursday night fire on Cumberland Street as cleanup continued Friday.

Both lanes of Cumberland Street remained closed between Mill and Martin streets Friday afternoon, and fire police were detouring traffic around the block.

Members of the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Clear Spring and Longmeadow fire departments were on the scene as the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office conducts its investigation.

The three-alarm fire destroyed three vacant Clear Spring row houses and spread to a fourth Thursday night.

Firefighters were called back to the scene at 8:25 a.m. to monitor hot spots that had reportedly flared back up, a Washington County Emergency Services dispatcher said.


The fire, reported at 5:48 p.m., caused extensive damage to the former Overbrook Hotel at 111 and 113 Cumberland St. (U.S. 40), as well as the adjoining home at 115 Cumberland St., said Kevin L. Lewis, Washington County's director of fire and emergency services.

It also extended into 117 Cumberland St., the only one of the four homes that was occupied, but there was only smoke damage there, officials said. The American Red Cross was prepared to help the displaced occupants of that building, Lewis said. Neighbors said a woman lived there with her daughter and granddaughter.

The fire was mostly under control at 8 p.m., Lewis said. There were no injuries, Lewis said.

The fire appeared to have started between units 113 and 115, but the cause had not been determined, Lewis said about 8 p.m. The Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office was investigating.

Damage to the row houses was estimated at $500,000, the fire marshal's office said in a news release Thursday night.

The row houses were built in the 1800s and were not equipped with residential fire sprinklers, according to the release. Investigators did not know if working smoke alarms had been installed.

Firefighters were doing cleanup at 10:30 p.m., and Mike Reid, chief of the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Co., said some units probably would be on the scene through the night to monitor it.

About 15 fire and rescue companies from Washington County and Franklin County, Pa., responded to the fire, Lewis said. The fire marshal's office said about 112 firefighters were at the scene.

By about 6:30 p.m., much of Clear Spring was blanketed in thick smoke and residents had lined Cumberland Street to watch firefighters douse the historic buildings just a few hundred feet from Town Hall on the town's main street. Around 6:50 p.m., flames were visible shooting from the building's roof.

Firefighters attempted to enter the homes to fight the fire from inside, but were forced back out by the intensity of the fire, Lewis said. By 8 p.m., the fire had been controlled enough for firefighters to go back inside, he said.

Dot Blevins of Big Pool said her sister, Mary Lou Mundey, lived at 115 Cumberland St. until Mundey died in May.

The home was vacant, but still contained some of Mundey's belongings, Blevins said.

Mundey's son-in-law, David Hildebrand, said he thought the fire started in 111 or 113 Cumberland St. because they appeared to be burning before 115 Cumberland St.

Hildebrand said 111 and 113 Cumberland St. also were vacant.

Mundey and her husband lived at the house for more than 50 years and raised two children there, Hildebrand said.

The front stoop of the house was a teen hangout, said Mundey's daughter, Barb Hildebrand.

"Everybody sat on the porch when I was growing up," Barb Hildebrand said.

The Hildebrands had been packing and sorting items to sell at an auction to settle the estate, they said.

Barb Hildebrand said the family already had moved out most of the heirlooms and valuables, but some, including family photos, remained inside.

As firefighters entered the house, they threw down an old school-desk type chair and removed a piece of furniture and a basket of old albums for the family.

"It was our worst fear, and it happened," David Hildebrand said of the fire.

Also watching the firefighting activity were Barry Younker and his sister, Tammy Shawley, who grew up in the former Overbrook Hotel when their parents owned it.

The building had been converted into two homes -- 111 Cumberland St. was a full home and 113 Cumberland St. was divided into four apartments, Younker said.

He said his parents owned the building until about eight or nine years ago.

When Younker and Shawley were growing up, the building still showed signs of its former life as a hotel, Shawley said. Some of the doors still had hotel room numbers on them, and their father found an old bellhop uniform in the building, she said.

"My dad loved that place," Shawley said, adding she had dreamed of being able to buy back the building.

"It's just sad," she said.

Staff writers Dave McMillion and Dan Dearth contributed to this story.

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