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After 6 months, little changed at scene of Clear Spring fire

New owner of buildings hopes to restore them to something like what they once were

January 20, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • The rear view of buildings at 111, 113 and 115 Cumberland St. in Clear Spring that were burned in a July 2010 fire.
By Kevin G. GIlbert, Staff Photographer

CLEAR SPRING — Nearly six months after fire destroyed three row houses in Clear Spring, the structures have new ownership but little else has changed.

"I've inherited a mess," said Donald Bragunier, who bought the homes under the name Cumberland Street LLC.

In November, Bragunier purchased the homes at 111, 113 and 115 Cumberland St. for what he said was a little bit of nothing.

"They practically gave them to me," he said.

He paid $10,000 for all three properties, according to online documents at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.  

Not much work was done by previous owners after the fire, Bragunier said.

The only permit he has been able to obtain from Washington County is for cleaning up the buildings and making them watertight, he said.

With temperatures dipping below freezing, debris and water have frozen to the floor of the buildings, he said.

Some of the mess is left over from when firefighters extinguished the July 29 blaze, but some water and debris are a result of the structures sitting open to the elements for months, he said.

Bragunier said he hopes to restore the buildings to something like what they once were, but he does not see the buildings ever being more than rental units in the future.

Some of the row houses date back to Clear Spring's infancy.

The two units now numbered 111 and 113 Cumberland St. were probably once the oldest building in Clear Spring, David Wiles, president of the Clear Spring District Historical Association, said in July.

It was once a log hotel, most likely built between 1821 and 1825, Wiles said previously. Before becoming housing, it was known by many names, including the Overbrook Hotel, he said.

Due to the extent of the damage, Bragunier — who also owns Bragunier Masonry of Clear Spring — said that only the outer brick walls of the buildings are salvageable.

The interior will have to be gutted, he said.

He said he plans to strip the paint from the outer walls to help them regain some of their original character.

While Bragunier takes steps to restore the buildings, Deputy State Fire Marshal Edward Ernst said he was still investigating the fire.

Ernst said he has ruled out all possible options but arson.

No suspects have been identified by the Maryland Fire Marshal's Office, and no charges have been filed, he said.

Building an arson case can take years, Ernst said.

Unlike other crime scenes, evidence is often destroyed with arson, he said.

"Typically, with large fires we lose a lot of evidence, unlike at other crime scenes," he said. "A lot of the evidence we do get is circumstantial. We have to make sure it is solid."

In the case of these buildings, Ernst said all three units were vacant at the time of the fire, which adds to the difficulty of the investigation.

But all of the evidence necessary to investigate the arson has been gathered so renovations should not interfere with identifying a cause, he said.

Bragunier said he does not have a timeline for completing the renovations.

The July fire appeared to have started between units 113 and 115, Kevin L. Lewis, Washington County's director of fire and emergency services, said in July.

Bragunier said there were no firewalls between the homes, allowing the fire to spread quickly.

Bragunier said he plans to put in what are called "three-hour" walls between the units. Such walls are designed to hold back fire for up to three hours, protecting the adjoining units, he said.

Officials said in July that a fourth building, 117 Cumberland St., sustained minor smoke damage in the fire.

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