BUCKHANNON — “A small town’s worst nightmare,” were the words Mayor Robbie Skinner used to describe the structure fire that raged in downtown Buckhannon Tuesday afternoon. Though several businesses and tenants were displaced by the Main Street fire, quick action by the Buckhannon Fire Department and numerous other departments who came to assist spared the city from further destruction and no one was injured.
According to BFD Career Firefighter John Brugnoli, his department was first alerted of the fire in progress from a citizen who ran into their station at 2:04 p.m. After stepping outside and seeing a “huge plume of smoke,” BFD Chief JB Kimble was first to arrive on scene within 2 minutes at the 23-23B East Main Street block at the corner of Spring Street. “It had been burning for quite a while,” Brugnoli reported. “I can’t believe it hadn’t been called in already because the whole roof was already burning.” He estimated the fire had already been in progress for approximately 15-20 minutes before the fire department was ever notified.
The fire reportedly started in a 2-foot void that extends the whole length of the building owned by Travis Foster. Below that void, a drop ceiling was installed for the apartments, which reportedly concealed the fire until it escaped through the roof. “When we got there, we were banging on doors and people had no idea that the building was even on fire. When we first went inside, we started going in the apartments searching, and if it wouldn’t have been for us pulling the ceiling trying to get to the fire, you would’ve never known the fire was above you.” Although the State Fire Marshal has not released the official cause of the fire yet, Brugnoli said they suspected an electrical related issue started the blaze.
Renovations to some of the 12 upstairs apartments were underway, so Foster said not all were currently inhabited but multiple families were forced out by the fire. Affected businesses within the building include Bacteria Busters, September Sun Hair Studio, Infiniti’s Downtown Tattoos, Anita’s Flowers and Sweet A Licious, which all suffered severe water damage from the fire being extinguished.
Approximately 61 firefighters on scene used an estimated 1.5 million gallons of water to quench the flames from the ground, inside the building, and from above using three aerial units simultaneously. “We were trying to keep it from spreading. It was trying its hardest to go through the tattoo shop ceiling, but we got it stopped. We kept all the fire contained to the second floor area, which was the main goal,” Brugnoli explained.
Infiniti’s tattoo artist Josh Shrift said he had a client in the chair who noticed the smell of smoke before they ever heard the sirens. Sweet A Licious owner Michelle Jack also mentioned that her mother working in the building’s ice cream shop hadn’t noticed anything unusual until someone told her to evacuate.
All Upshur County volunteer fire departments, with exception of Selbyville VFD, were toned out as a box alarm due to the fire’s location in a commercial area. Adrian VFD, Banks District VFD, Buckhannon VFD, Ellamore VFD, Warren District VFD, and Washington District Volunteer Fire Company all responded to assist BFD. Brugnoli noted that the Banks District Chief happened to be in town and responded, which pulled his department; however, the volunteers in southern Upshur County don’t typically respond to town as that leaves their communities uncovered should another emergency simultaneously occur.
Neighboring fire departments from Belington, Elkins, Jane Lew, Junior, and Weston also responded, as well as Randolph County EMS. Upshur County EMS workers continually monitored and assessed firefighters, taking their vitals as they exited to keep everyone safe. The Office of Emergency Management and many volunteers worked tirelessly throughout the day to assist in any way they could.
The Buckhannon Water and Street Departments, as well as the Buckhannon Police Department, the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department, the Buckhannon VIPS, and City of Buckhannon employees from various departmentsall provided assistance and did their part to help control and remedy the situation. “Mayor Skinner was on hand throughout the entire event offering his support to the City of Buckhannon employees and volunteers, and his thanks, on behalf of the city, to all those who came from the surrounding area to assist,” City Recorder Randy Sanders expressed.
In the midst of all the chaos, the community came together and pitched in to help one another. Business owners and bystanders helped their neighbors remove as much as they could safely carry out, while others supplied water and ice packs for the firefighters. Mayor Skinner shared Tuesday night, “Thank you to every single person who helped downtown today. Whether you fought the flames, helped move furniture, brought water, brought pizza, or just came down to hug your neighbor, you made a difference, and I could not be prouder of our community. You put into action what we have always known… that Buckhannon is special. It’s not like other places. We are a family.”
Domino’s Pizza even donated dinner to feed the firefighters once their job was finished. Brugnoli said the fire was finally out and the scene was turned over to the State Fire Marshal at 7:28 p.m., but Main Street remained closed a couple more hours for cleanup. “The city had a ton of people out last night getting stuff cleaned up and getting the roads sprayed off,” Brugnoli added.
Sanders told residents Tuesday night, “Cleanup is underway, evaluations will take place, as well as inspections by the proper authorities, and decisions for the current occupants will have to be made.”
The Parish House and Mountain CAP extended offers to help anyone displaced by the fire, so please call (304) 472-0743 or (304) 472-1500 if you need assistance.