Editor’s note: This article is the first in a two-part series about community recovery from the harrowing Oct. 5 fire on East Main Street.
BUCKHANNON – The building at 23-23B East Main Street that burned in the devastating Oct. 5 fire has been deemed a total loss and will most likely be torn down within 30 to 45 business days, according to its owner.
Travis Foster, owner of the building and of two businesses headquartered inside it, said the building was released to the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office for investigation purposes following containment of the downtown blaze. Foster told My Buckhannon that after they completed their investigation, the state fire marshal’s office informed him the fire was “probably electrical” and likely started in the attic of the original structure. Officials with the fire marshal’s office said the cause will likely be officially classified as “undetermined.”
The building was released to Foster about a week-and-a-half ago and tested for asbestos last Wednesday. Those results are expected to be back within seven to 10 business days. Removing the asbestos prior to demolition is the next step, Foster said.
“We know there’s asbestos in there, but it’s just a matter of finding the areas so we can dump it the right way,” Foster said. “We’ve already started to strip the building now — that’s taking gas meters out, that’s taking the water meters out, and getting the electricity disconnected from the building. We also had a few salvageable things in there like a brand-new water tank, a commode and an HVAC unit that was not touched by fire that we had to get out.”
Foster said he was grateful to the Buckhannon-Upshur community for supporting the residents who lived in the building.
“They have had an outpouring of support. Obviously, you can’t replace pictures and important things like that, but with the support of everybody – quiet support, too – they’ve been helped out a ton, enough for them to be able to move on and eventually be successful,” Foster said. “What’s sad for them is that they all knew each other. They knew each other’s work schedules and who was coming and going when.”
“They looked out for each other, so with the loss of the building, they lost the family atmosphere, and you can’t replace that,” he added. “Everybody knew everybody.”
Similarly, Lisa Williams, owner of the September Sun Salon, said she won’t be able to replace her salon anytime soon. Williams said she did not think she would receive enough money from her insurance company to reopen in a different location anytime soon.
“I’ve been there going on nine years, and we’ve been through a lot in those nine years,” Williams said. “I’ve loved it, I love being there. I love downtown Buckhannon, I love my town, I love the people and I loved seeing Main Street busy.”
Williams said she will definitely miss her customers and the ambience inside the salon.
“The salon had a great family feel,” she recalled. “I had clients tell me they loved coming there because it felt like ‘Steel Magnolias,’ so my daughter joined me there, Sierra, and we saw a wide range of girls of all ages. It was fun, and I had a great time.”
Williams said the salon phone number has been forwarded to her cell phone, so customers can still touch base with her.
“The town is a family to me, but I’m not sure where I’ll be recovering and rebuilding and starting over as of right now,” Williams said. “I’m still taking phone calls. I’m not sure what I will do next, but I’ll keep everybody posted when I know exactly where I’m going.”
When My Buckhannon caught up with Michelle Jack, owner of Sweet-A-Licious, she said she does not know what she will do in the long term either, but she appreciates all the support the community has given her.
“I have been inundated with so much community support that it is really has been overwhelming to us,” Jack said in a recent interview. “Everybody wants to know what we’re going to do, and we don’t know what we’re going to do. We are waiting on the insurance [company] and that kind of thing, and of course, the building’s going to be torn down.”
Despite the huge loss of the building, Jack plans to keep her ice cream truck, Sweetie, up and running and will continue her efforts to supply some good old-fashioned fun for local youth.
“I’m going to continue to run my ice cream truck, and I’m going to continue to have a few of my kids’ activities because they were scheduled prior to this happening, and I think it’s important to try to provide those because the kids look forward to it,” she said.
Jack said she does plan to have her annual Christmastime Grinch Party, and anyone interested in attending is advised to follow the Sweet A Licious Facebook page for updates on events and where the ice cream truck will be.
“I retired to run my ice cream shop, so I’m a worker,” Jack said. “I have to try to do something because I can’t just sit around and do nothing.”
She also thanked all the fire departments in the city, county and surrounding communities that responded for their tireless efforts that day.
“I just really want to send a ‘thank you’ out to all the fire departments for everything they did; it could have been so much worse,” Jack said. “I so appreciate and respect what the fire department and all the emergency personnel did that day, because we lost the building, but it could have been a whole city block. I’ve never really watched them in action like that until that day, but I was very impressed, and our families are just very thankful for their work that day.”
In addition to Foster’s two businesses housed in the building, Foster’s Marketing Group and Bacteria Busters, his sister, Tonia Foster, operated Logan Land Services at the property. He owns several downtown properties and is on the verge of completing the purchase of the building that contains Fox’s Pizza and used to house the Upshur County branch of The Inter-Mountain, a Boost Mobile location and a pawn shop.
“I bought the Fox’s Pizza building and I’m closing on it soon,” Foster said, referring to the Trader’s Alley building near Jawbone Park. “I’ve got some good plans for it.”
He plans to move the headquarters of TBF Land and Mineral Research, Foster’s Marketing Group and Bacteria Busters to that building.
“It happened a little quicker than expected, getting that corporate office ready, but we’re fine,” Foster said. “We’re functioning right now. We’re taking our time rebuilding, and we’re not in a hurry for anything. We’re just kind of starting over, and it’s OK to start over. It’s almost kind of nice to sit back and take a breath. Now, I can really sit back and run my companies from a different mindset.”
The Oct. 5 blaze was classified as a three-alarm fire, which means the fire requires the largest response in Buckhannon Fire Department dispatch policy, according to an Oct. 8 press release sent out by Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble. Firefighters on scene utilized about 1.3 million gallons of water on the fire, and four residents were removed from the structure. Although no one – either emergency personnel or building occupants – suffered injuries severe enough to be transported to a hospital, one firefighter had a close call but was evaluated and released on scene.
Click here to read the fire department’s full release, which includes a timeline of events that day.