UPDATED: Brashears barn blaze likely to remain a mystery, fire chief says
BERRYVILLE -- What started the fire that completely wiped out the Good Shepherd Humane Society Doggie Thrift Store in downtown Berryville late Friday afternoon may well remain a mystery, officials said Sunday.
The thrift store, located at 202 S. Springfield St., directly behind Davis Fina and housed in the old Brashears barn, burned to the ground in an enormous blaze that began around 4:15 p.m. Friday, said Berryville Fire Chief Doug Johnson.
The building, circa early 1930s, formerly housed Brashears Furniture long before it moved to its current location on U.S. Highway 62. No one was present when the fire started, and the last store employees to leave had been gone for only about 15 minutes when it apparently began, Johnson said.
Berryville Fire Department, assisted by Green Forest firefighters, were successful in stopping the flames -- which at times were said to be 150 feet tall -- from spreading to extremely close-by homes and businesses, but the barn itself is a total loss, Johnson said, so much so that there is nothing left to investigate in order to determine the fire's cause.
"There's no way to tell anything, it's too far gone," Johnson told Carroll County News Sunday. The only way you can investigate a fire is you've got to be able to tell where it started and what direction it went in. But this thing was completely involved when we arrived on scene, and it's completely burned to the ground. There is nothing left to investigate, and we have no idea what happened to start it."
The blaze, which brought a response from four Berryville fire units and one from Green Forest Fire Department, continued to burn -- amid the rubble -- all night Friday night, the fire chief said.
"We stayed with it fighting it in two-hour shifts all night long, till daylight Saturday," Johnson explained. "It burned all night and was still smoking (Sunday) afternoon. We've been going by and checking it all weekend, still watching it. If we get rain or snow Monday, it might end up finally putting it out, otherwise it may smoke for a couple more days."
No one was injured in the blaze, but there were a number of close calls, making for quite a "wild night," the fire chief said.
When firefighters arrived, the barn was completely engulfed in flames, from end to end; the apartments just across the street had already lost power, and the building's roof was starting to steam, Johnson said. The apartments were evacuated for about four hours, he added, and firefighters were able to cool off the building quickly and keep it from catching fire as well.
Another huge challenge was saving old Vol Brashears home, adjacent to the burning barn and only a few yards away from one of the burning walls, Johnson said.
"Our boys did a really fine job of saving everything else around that barn," he said. "That house was maybe 15 feet from the wall of the building that burned. Our department did a really great job, and I want to thank Green Forest for coming over and assisting us after we called for help. They did a great job, too."
Not long after the fire battle ensued, there was an explosion inside the burning barn that sent a firefighter just outside flying, briefly. A portable oxygen tank exploded inside the building, Johnson said, blowing off the building's garage doors and sending concrete blocks, wood and debris from inside the barn flying across Carl Street.
"The explosion blew the whole northwest corner out of the building and into the road there," Johnson said. "Those little oxygen bottles are dangerous and they're bad when they explode."
Fortunately, Johnson said, the firefighter, who'd been working the northwest corner of the blaze, escaped injury when the force of the explosion threw him up against the wall across the road. His name was not released.
At the scene Friday, one firefighter who asked to remain unnamed told Carroll County News that he had cringed many times whenever he thought about it catching fire. And today, "it did just what I thought it would," he said, shaking his head.
Johnson said that given the seriousness of the situation when they arrived, he is pleased with the outcome.
"For about an hour and a half there I didn't know if everything was going to be OK or not, the flames were so big and the barn was just so engulfed; it was pretty wild," he said. "But by about 6 p.m. I knew the other buildings were safe and going to be OK. I was pretty well happy with our work at that point."