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Marlinton mayor expects economic impact from fire

MARLINTON, W.Va. -- Marlinton Mayor Joe Smith expects his town to take an economic hit after a fire destroyed four downtown buildings.

The fire broke out early Sunday morning and rekindled Monday. Several businesses and 13 residents were displaced.

"This is absolutely devastating. This fire has displaced many people and, most likely, there will be a significant impact from an economic standpoint. We obviously won't be able to see the economic effects for several months, but we have lost some of our tax base," Smith said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.

"They did some measurements on the building and got a few photographs, but I'm not sure they have even made it to where they know where the original fire began, simply because of the safety aspect of it," Smith said about investigators from the West Virginia Fire Marshal's Office. "One thing we don't need is someone to get hurt."

One building's roof and third floor caved in, and authorities decided to let the fire burn in hopes that the entire structure would collapse in on itself, Smith said.

He said streets in the area, along with a business that wasn't affected by the fire, cannot be opened until the structure is secured.

"I was a member of the Fire Department for almost 40 years," Smith said. "Rekindles are quite common, especially in old buildings like this. This building was built back in 1899 or 1900. It's the oldest commercial building in Marlinton. It's three stories tall. It has double-layered brick on the outside.

"The timbers in it are just old rough-cut timbers. They're just so old and dry that it's not unusual for something like this to catch again. It's also windy up here too. The wind catches it and it flames up."

First Lt. J.P. Duncan, of the Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department, said the firefighters fought unsuccessfully to keep the fire from spreading.

"It just kept going," Duncan said. "We tried to save the apartments but were unsuccessful. These are old buildings, and several roofs have been added to them over the years. So it was difficult, in a sense, to get water to the flames."

All fire departments in Pocahontas County responded to the blaze, along with firefighters from Greenbrier, Monroe, Nicholas, Randolph and Webster counties and Bath County, Va.

"The department from Monroe County was the fire department at the women's prison in Alderson. All departments, though, did an incredible job, and we sincerely thank them," the mayor said.

The American Red Cross has been helping residents displaced by the fire.


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