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Eastern Panhandle fire hall destroyed by blaze

Journal photo by Jeff McCoy Firefighters battle the fire at Great Cacapon’s Volunteer Fire Company station house Tuesday afternoon.
Journal photo by Jeff McCoy
Firefighters battle the fire at Great Cacapon’s Volunteer Fire Company station house Tuesday afternoon.

GREAT CACAPON, W.Va. — The Great Cacapon Volunteer Fire Department is a total loss and at least half of its firefighting equipment has been destroyed after a fire Tuesday ripped through the fire hall.

Firefighters from four states battled the blaze in Morgan County for several hours. Great Cacapon is about five miles west of Berkeley Springs just off W.Va. 9.

Around noon, a passerby made a call to 911 to report the fire. The passerby, who wished not to be identified, said they saw flames coming from the building.

In one daring move, witnesses said the department’s fire chief, Matthew Grimley, drove one of the department’s engines through a closed bay door in order to save it from the burning building. Witnesses said the fire had cut off the power and the doors wouldn’t open.

Grimley said a brush truck and a tanker were lost in the blaze, however. In addition to the engine, a brush unit was saved from the flames. Another tanker truck was spared because it was in the shop in Hagerstown, Grimley said.

“Our preliminary plan is we’re going to borrow an engine from one of the neighboring stations,” Grimley said.

Grimley estimated a 50 percent loss of all apparatus and the majority of all gear, radios and other items needed for fire and rescue operations were lost.

Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh said crews from various states were on the scene of the fire at 179 Spring St. Shambaugh also said a next-door residence needed to be evacuated because of the fire.

Dick Myers, director of Morgan County Office of Homeland Security, said firefighters from Berkeley Springs Fire Department, South Morgan Fire Department, Paw Paw Volunteer Fire Department were on the scene. Units were also dispatched from Berkeley and Hampshire counties, as well as Washington County, Maryland and units from St. Thomas, Pennsylvania, and Reynolds Store, Virginia.

Berkeley County had three departments on the scene, including Captain Eddie Gochenour, director of Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“We’ll help them out all that we can,” Gochenour said, referring to loaning them equipment from Berkeley County.

Investigators from the Office of the West Virginia Fire Marshal were responding to the scene Tuesday afternoon, according to the office’s Twitter account.

Great Cacapon Volunteer Fire Company president, and former chief, Tom “Tucker” Stinebaugh said he thought it may have been an electrical short in a fire truck, but he was not sure.

The flames flared high around 1 p.m. as the roof began to collapse. A large smoke plume could be seen from the Panorama Overlook on W.Va. 9. While firefighters battled the flames, a residential swimming pool was used for water at one point.

Some Great Cacapon residents watching the fire were close to tears. The fire company was established in 1946. It was housed in another building before moving to its current location.

“We wanted to build a new building, but not this way,” Stinebaugh said. “We were looking for grants and trying to raise money. We’d paid $4,000 to an architect to draw up plans, but those plans would cost $4 million to build. We couldn’t do that as a volunteer organization and had put it on hold. We were talking about replacing the one truck, and now this has happened. We’ll have to rebuild something.”

The fire was a second blow to the community. The Fourth of July festival, which usually takes place on Saturday of the holiday weekend at nearby Great Cacapon Grove, had been cancelled due to water damage to the pavilion and kitchen building from vandalism.

The cause of the fire is unknown as of press time.

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