BUCKHANNON – Flames engulfed a large building on Main Street in Buckhannon in a matter of minutes Tuesday afternoon, leading to frantic moments as firefighters searched the multi-story structure for anyone still inside. But ultimately, regular emergency planning and training gave first responders the tools they needed to safely evacuate everyone and contain the fire itself to the single structure.
The fire that took place at 23-23B East Main Street, located on the corner of Main and Spring streets, has been deemed accidental, but an exact cause had not officially been determined as of Wednesday afternoon.
Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble said the fire started at approximately 2:04 p.m. Tuesday. Firefighters responded quickly from the Buckhannon Fire Department, located just a block away.
“There was an old house there, and they basically built that building around a three-story house that was built back in the 1930s,” Kimble said. “The upper level of that old house is where the area of origin was, above the apartments basically.”
No one was injured, but Kimble said firefighters found one deceased cat and one firefighter had to be taken out of a mayday situation.
“He was about 10 breaths from being out of air,” Kimble said. “There were two firefighters inside. One almost expended all of his air, and the other firefighter, his partner, called the mayday. Then you have to locate the firefighter and get him out.”
The firefighters were attempting to locate any residents still in the apartments when the mayday occurred.
“Initially our goal was to enter the building and get everybody out of the apartments that we could find, and that’s what got the two guys in the situation,” Kimble said. “They were they were going room-to-room, trying to get people out, and we did remove some tenants who weren’t aware of the fire, because the fire was above them and they did not hear any fire alarms. But conditions got worse and then there was zero visibility and we were still taking them out. The fireman’s air got low, and he could not come back out the same way he went in.”
Kimble said he believed there were 11 apartments and six of them were occupied.
As conditions deteriorated inside and additional equipment arrived on scene, all firefighters were evacuated from the burning building.
“When the ladders go up and as soon as they start flowing water, everybody has to get out of the building, because those hoses produce 750 to 1,500 gallons of water per minute,” Kimble said. “At 8.34 pounds per gallon, you’re putting a lot of weight in that building, so everybody has to be out.”
Four businesses were located in the building: Sweet-a-Licious, September Sun Hair Studio, Bacteria Busters and Foster’s Marketing Group. Infiniti’s Downtown Tattoo is located next door.
“The building is a total loss — the main building at least, I’m not sure about the tattoo parlor yet,” Kimble said. “There was water damage; we flowed an estimated 1.3 million gallons of water, so the water has to go somewhere, and there was some water damage in the adjoining building. I’m sure the buildings on each side had some smoke in them.”
A large plume of smoke more than 100 feet tall formed within minutes of the initial call, with the wind blowing it southwest and causing hazy conditions in the area of West Lincoln and Boggess streets for much of the afternoon.
The fire took approximately three hours to get under control, with just some small hotspots left.
Firefighters and other first responders from several counties poured into downtown Buckhannon to help battle the blaze.
“I think 63 total firefighters responded, and that does not include EMS or OEM or any support agencies,” Kimble said. “That was a three-alarm fire, our largest dispatch.”
The fire departments that responded to the fire included Elkins from Randolph County, Junior and Belington from Barbour County, Jane Lew and Weston from Lewis County, Buckhannon, Warren District, Washington District, Adrian, Ellamore, Upshur EMS, Randolph EMS, Upshur OEM, Buckhannon Police Department, Upshur County Sheriff’s Department, and multiple departments from the City of Buckhannon, such as parking enforcement, the water department and street department.
“Each one of our shifts and myself have walked that building’s block probably 20 times in the last few years, and when you plan for that situation it goes a little easier,” Kimble said. “Even though you lose the building, nobody got hurt — that’s what we call preplanning.”
Anyone impacted by the fire is asked to contact Mountain CAP at 304-472-1500 or the Upshur County Parish House at 304-472-0743 for assistance.