HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Jonathan Shell was driving east to downtown Huntington about 8:30 a.m. Sunday.
When he reached Camden Park, he saw smoke billowing from miles away. When he got closer, he feared the worst.
“I knew it had to be one of Huntington’s biggest buildings,” Shell said. “It looked liked it was City Hall.”
The Huntington Fire Department’s full staff, as well as volunteer fire departments from Green Valley, Barboursville, Ceredo and Ohio River Road, fought and miraculously contained a downtown fire that started in an upper floor of the seven-floor historic Morris Building, 845 4th Ave.
Reported at 8:39 a.m. Sunday, the fire was the city’s largest downtown fire since the tragic Jan. 13, 2007, fire at the Emmons Apartments that claimed nine lives.
No residents were injured in the Morris fire. One HFD firefighter received a leg injury.
During the height of the fire, sheets of ash rained down on firefighters and bystanders below. Black smoke billowed from the Morris’ tar roof as stormy winds blackened the sky past the high-rise St. James building one block eastward.
The 10 or so residents of Morris Building were all evacuated from the building, which houses several business including two popular ground-floor restaurants — Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar and The Peddler, both owned by Drew Hetzer.
Everyone safely got out of the building, confirmed Gordon Merry, Cabell County EMS director.
Eric Adkins, a fifth-floor resident of the Morris Building for the past year and a half, was awakened by pounding on his door.
“Somebody was banging on the door. I thought it was my Dad, but when I opened the door, it was a firefighter with an axe saying we had to get out of there,” Adkins said. “I grabbed some stuff to put on and went down the stairwell, and it was all filled with smoke. There was so much smoke in the entrance, you couldn’t see out of the building.”
While all of the offices in the building were closed at the time, a small crew was on the first floor at Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar, which is owned by Drew and Megan Hetzer, who also own the adjacent new pub and restaurant, The Peddler. After sounding the fire alarm and shutting down all of the appliances, the crew escaped the building.
With the Morris Building sandwiched between a short stack of buildings up 9th Street and similar-sized multi-floor units such as the Renaissance Building along 4th Avenue, Huntington Fire Chief Carl Eastham said put out the call for mutual aid and for all HFD members to respond. Eastham wanted to prevent what firefighters call “a block party,” when a downtown fire eats a whole block of adjacent buildings before crews can get enough aerial or roof-top units to respond…