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Electrical fire in former school causes minimal damage

August 11, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • Firefighters spray water Wednesday evening in the burning attic of the St. Joseph Parish offices at 336 S. Queen St. in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Matthew Umstead, Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- An electrical fire Wednesday night in the former St. Joseph Parish school in Martinsburg caused minimal damage, Martinsburg Fire Department Investigator Jason Hoover said.

Reported at 6:20 p.m., the fire originated in the attic of the red brick building at 336 S. Queen St., Hoover said.

No one was injured.

The fire caused minor fire damage to the attic and smoke damage to the upper floors of the building, Hoover said.

The fire prompted police to shut down the 300 block of South Queen Street for at least two hours, and one lane remained closed as of 9:30 p.m., according to Hoover.

Because of concerns with the electrical system in the building, the fire department brought a generator to the building to preserve large quantities of food that the CCAP/Loaves & Fishes organization has refrigerated and frozen in the basement, Hoover said. The organization helps needy people in Berkeley County.

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The former school building also houses the parish office and a counseling service. St. Joseph School moved to its current facility for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade at 110 E. Stephen St. in the 2000-01 school year.

A couple electrical breakers tripped about 5 p.m., according to Parish bookkeeper Debbie Ford, who said she detected a "strong burning smell" but didn't see anything.

Ford said she went from room to room to check to see whether window air-conditioning units were still running and determined the burning smell was strongest on a landing between the first and second floors above the basement floor of the building.

After evacuating the building, Peter J. Callahan, who has a private counseling service in the building, said a member of one of his groups that was to meet at 6 p.m. noticed smoke coming from the attic.

Outside the building Wednesday, the Rev. Patrick Fryer said he was elated that the fire department quickly put out the fire.

"They're excellent," Fryer said.

Joining Martinsburg Fire Department at the scene were members of the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority, Bedington and Baker Heights volunteer fire departments, the Martinsburg Police and Berkeley County Sheriff's departments, and the county Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Hoover said the fire department called for additional assistance because department crews were responding to two ambulance calls when the fire was reported.

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