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Downtown Shepherdstown home burns

December 22, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Firefighters battle a fire Saturday afternoon at a two-story house near the intersection of Duke and German streets in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
By Andrew Schotz

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — A house in the 300 block of West German Street burned for hours Saturday afternoon, but no one was home, according to Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ross Morgan.

Carl Bell, a Shepherd University biology professor, lives at the house, but was away when the fire broke out, Morgan said.

Bell returned home later in the day, he said.

Morgan said a firefighter driving by noticed smoke coming out of the home.

Firefighters were sent to the scene at 2:39 p.m., according to Jefferson County 911 call records.

After 4 p.m., bursts of flames were popping up and being knocked down by firefighters on ladder trucks from Shepherdstown and Boonsboro.

Several other West Virginia and Maryland fire departments and ambulance squads also responded to the call.

At about 4:30 p.m., firefighters started pulling apart the charred roof, with contents of the house still burning.

Morgan said the house was packed with items, which kept the fire burning and limited firefighters’ access inside.

A “tanker task force” pulled water from the Potomac River, he said.

Firefighters stayed at the scene for about five hours. Morgan said the house will be watched for possible flare-ups.

As of 8 p.m., the state fire marshal’s office hadn’t determined a cause.

Bell’s home is near the intersection of West German and South Duke streets. Traffic was rerouted around that area during the fire.

Electricity was shut off while crews fought the fire, then was restored in the evening.

Buildings on either side of the home — including the Thomas Shepherd Inn Bed & Breakfast — did not burn, Morgan said.

Bell has taught at Shepherd since 1961.

His wife, Lyla Neff Bell, died in December 2011, according to an online obituary. They were married for 50 years.

The Bells used to live on Billmyer Road. In March 1985, their two-story brick home — similar to the West German Street house — caught fire when two wires touched during a rain storm, The Herald-Mail reported in a 1990 story.

The couple’s dogs alerted them to the fire, which had engulfed their porch. Bell told The Herald-Mail at the time that he and his wife jumped out a second-floor window to escape.

The 1990 story described how Bell, for 20 years, had been keeping a “graveyard of used shop machines and discarded household wares” on his property off W.Va. 45.

The couple allowed trees and grasses to grow between scrap piles, creating havens for insects, birds and other wildlife, the story said.

The Jefferson County Planning Commission, at the time, found the collection in violation of a county ordinance on salvage yards.

Bell then was issued a summons to appear in court. The outcome of that case couldn’t be determined on Saturday.

This was at least the third significant Shepherdstown fire in a little more than five weeks.

Cooper R. McQuilkin’s historic home along W.Va. 45 burned during the early-morning hours of Nov. 15.

Willow Forge, Dan Tokar’s blacksmith shop on South Princess Street, was destroyed Nov. 30. A benefit potluck dinner for Tokar is scheduled for Dec. 30 at the Shepherdstown Community Club.

Staff writers Richard F. Belisle and Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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