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State fire marshal rules Wesleyan fire accidental, electrical in nature

BUCKHANNON – A fire that originated in the carpentry shop of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s Physical Plant Monday night was ruled an accidental, electrical fire.

The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s office was on scene Tuesday investigating the blaze, which broke out at about 7:50 p.m. Monday, Aug. 9, and subsequently determined the fire was likely electrical in nature, according to a press release issued late Tuesday afternoon by the college’s Marketing and Communications office.

A photo of the side of the Physical Plant, as smoke wafts into the air.

“West Virginia Wesleyan College is grateful for the quick response to the Physical Plant fire Monday evening from fire units in a four-county area,” the release states. “The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s office has ruled the probable cause to be electrical in nature. The amount of damage is not known at this time.”

As noted in a previous story, there were no occupants in the building when the fire started, and no one suffered injuries as a result of the blaze.

Wesleyan’s release said the fire first materialized in the carpentry shop, which was damaged the most severely, and that Physical Plant offices have been relocated until repairs to the building are complete.

“West Virginia Wesleyan College would like to thank Buckhannon Fire Department, Warren District Volunteer Fire Department, Washington District Volunteer Fire Company, Adrian Volunteer Fire Department, Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department, Weston Volunteer Fire Department, Jane Lew Fire Department, Elkins Fire Department, Junior Volunteer Fire Department, Philippi Volunteer Fire Department, Upshur County EMS and Buckhannon Police Department for their assistance,” the press release says.

Firefighters use the ladder truck to access the top of the building and cut holes for ventilation in the roof.

Career Firefighter First Class Ethan Smith with the Buckhannon Fire Department said when crews first arrived on scene of the commercial structure fire, heavy flames and smoke were visible.

“The first crew went in to begin fire attack, and we requested our third alarm,” Smith said. “The contents of the building were saved.”

Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble said “third alarm” means that, in addition to the Weston and Elkins fire departments being paged to the scene, other departments in Barbour and Lewis counties are called in, as well as an additional department to staff the Buckhannon Fire Department. Kimble said because the building in question was a commercial structure/workshop, firefighters took a different approach than they would with a residential fire.

“It’s definitely completed different than if it was a residential fire,” Kimble said. “Because of our pre-planning, we know the basics of what’s in there – hazardous materials like paint thinner, gasoline and we knew there was a 400-gallon fuel tank in the back. It’s a judgment call – risk versus reward – and at that point, we knew it was confined to two-story cubicles in the middle part of the building, so we put as much water into the cubicles as we could quickly.”

Within a half-hour, the blaze was under mostly under control, Kimble said.

“We made a real good knock on it in about 30 minutes,” he said.

The approximately 60 firefighters from four counties on scene also drilled a hole in the roof for ventilation, and to pour water in from above, if necessary.

Kimble said the BFD sent every truck in the building, and he appreciated all the assistance from surrounding departments.

“The large turnout was appreciated, especially because of the 80-something-degree weather and it being a large building with potentially hazardous materials,” Kimble said. “It gets hot and you get tired, so it was nice to be able to send fresh crews in.”

Firefighters remained on scene for about three hours.

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