MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — An early Sunday fire destroyed a nearly million-dollar house on Babbling Brook Lane, where firefighters spent several tense hours wondering if any of the home’s 150 overnight partygoers were dead inside.
Cadaver dogs initially indicated the possibility of human remains, but cleared that area of the 11,000-square-foot house after debris was pushed aside. Hedgesville (W.Va.) Fire Chief Mike Nichols said approximately 150 people were attending a party in the hours before the fire started.
“I will sleep tonight knowing nobody was inside,” Nichols said.
The cause of the 4:15 a.m. fire is being investigated in cooperation with the state fire marshal’s office, he said.
Neighbor Joseph Cordell said his son called 911 and he called homeowner Bill Barrett, who has been living at another property he owns while the one in Mountain Brook Estates was being repainted. Cordell described first seeing plumes of smoke before fire was visible.
“Flames started shooting everywhere. ... We could hear things popping,” he said.
Barrett said his daughter was celebrating her college graduation with a party. Although they thought everyone left by 3 a.m., Barrett and fire officials waited for word on whether people were in the destroyed house.
“There’s no way we can track down 150 people,” Nichols said.
“We were just worrying if anybody got hurt,” Barrett said.
He said family photographs and his son’s sports awards were among the things lost in the fire.
Like Nichols and Barrett, Cordell said he was concerned about human safety for the houseguests and firefighters.
“Walls were caving in, and these guys,” he said of the firefighters, “were jumping out of there.”
The six-bedroom house is listed on several real estate websites for $950,000. Barrett said he built the house in 2006, but decided it was too big after his grown son and daughter moved.
Nichols said fire had spread through about 75 percent of the wood-frame house when firefighters arrived. He called for additional manpower almost immediately.
“We got tankers from everywhere because there aren’t hydrants here,” Nichols said, saying he utilized a 167th Airlift Wing tanker.
Nichols, who said he was frustrated by the lack of hydrants, said firefighters laid 3,000 to 4,000 feet of lines to reach a hydrant on Showers Lane. They spent the day extinguishing hot spots and cleaning up the area.
“It was strictly a defensive attack,” he said.
The fire at 74 Babbling Brook Lane melted the siding on two neighboring houses. Nichols said at one point, when the volume of available water was low, he directed firefighters to protect the neighboring structures.