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Fire damages former Moller Pipe Organ building

January 06, 2011|By DAN DEARTH and DAVE McMILLION | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com and davem@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Firefighter David Poffenberger uses a saw to cut open and vent a metal wall Thursday while battling a blaze at the former M.P. Moller Pipe Organ factory at 403 N. Prospect St. in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — A stubborn fire started in a lower level of an addition on the historic M.P. Moller Pipe Organ factory in Hagerstown Thursday afternoon, spreading into the upper levels of the structure as firefighters started to bring it under control, making it increasingly difficult to extinguish, fire officials said.

Heavy gray smoke billowed from openings in the metal-sided addition at 403 North Prospect St., as firefighters attacked it from above with a ladder truck and on the ground.

It took three hours to bring the blaze, first reported at 3:23 p.m., under control, fire officials said.

Eastern Organ Pipes Inc. makes organ pipes in the old factory. Workers with the company, who were in the building at the time, said the fire started in the area of a paint booth.

But City Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven said Thursday night that he could not confirm the cause of the fire.
DeHaven said fire investigators are planning to return to the scene Friday to continue their investigation.

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Thousands of gallons of water washed from the scene as firefighters battled the blaze, and DeHaven said ice was forming in the building Thursday night.

The darkness and the inability to determine whether the building was structurally safe Thursday night made it a difficult scene, DeHaven said.

“It’s just not safe right now,” DeHaven said.

The fire occurred in a dominant landmark in the city’s downtown area. The organ factory sits between North Burhans Boulevard and Jonathan Street, and the towering structure looms over the landscape heading up West North Avenue to North Prospect Street.

A row of homes sits directly across the street from the factory, and the area became a front-row seat for the fire trucks and the estimated 50 firefighters who worked the scene.
Erica Smith of 410 North Prospect St. was home when the fire started.

“I heard this big bang,” Smith said.

Smith said she didn’t worry about the noise too much, thinking it was children playing.

But Smith said she grew increasingly concerned about the safety of people in the neighborhood, especially children, as the fire continued to burn throughout the afternoon.

Hope Ebersole, who lives nearby at 406 North Prospect St., said she was not worried about the fire once she determined it was in the back of the factory away from her house.

“I was just glad the people who worked in there got out safely,” Ebersole said.

Frederick Morrison, co-owner of Eastern Organ Pipes, which is the only business operating in the old plant, said the fire started in a spray-painting booth on the ground level in the back.

“Our painter was cleaning out his spray gun at the end of the day, and he said he saw a flash ... something ignited the vapors,” Morrison said.

Morrison said Eastern Organ Pipes rents a portion of the block-long building and that the rest of the space was empty.

Morrison said Eastern Organ Pipes, which employs seven workers and two owners, opened in 1993. He said he has to wait to assess the damage before he can figure out what his next step will be.

Delphin Frushour, a co-owner of the business, said at the scene that he was concerned about an explosion given all the lacquers, thinners and other flammable materials that were present. The company painted pipes for pipe organs, Frushour said.

DeHaven could not comment in detail about what was inside the addition.

“We got more questions than answers right now,” DeHaven said.

A hazardous materials unit was sent to the scene, and firefighters, perched on a ladder truck, cut holes in the metal siding. Water was then shot through the openings.

No firefighters were hurt, DeHaven said. There was a report of minor civilian injury but it was not clear if it was related to the fire, DeHaven said.

The fire was contained to the addition, although there was water and smoke damage to the rest of the factory, fire officials said.

A damage estimate was not available Thursday night.

Cindy Horn said she has worked at Eastern for 11 years. Before that, she worked for 19 years at Moller Organ in the same building, Horn said.

When she first started at Moller she did preparation work for pipe makers and worked her way up to be a pipe maker, Horn said.

“We were just ending our shifts at 3:30 and someone yelled fire,” she said. “Another 10 minutes, and we would have been gone.”

Horn said she had a lot of happy memories.

“It’s sad,” she said. “I just hope they save it.”

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