ROYAL FURNITURE FIRE PARKERSBURG WV
Mackey's Antiques & Clock
1249 Gihon Road
Parkersburg WV 26101
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Fire struck the old Royal Furniture (pence) building on 4th Street Wednesday, June 22, 1975 turning the four story structure into a pile of debris. The fire started at approximately 1:15 p. m. shortly after City Fire Department inspectors left the building. They had been investigating a fire in the same building Sunday night which destroyed nearly $35,000 worth of merchandise stored by two area firms.
Ralph Husk, who led the investigation of the fire, said, We had just left about 30 minutes before it started and everything was in order. There is no doubt this fire was set. Fire Chief Dale Pringle echoed Husk's feeling that arson was the cause of the blaze. Things like this just don't happen by themselves, Pringle said. Husk cited the speed at which the fire spread as one reason for suspecting arson.
Spectators said that it was coming out of the windows on the second floor almost as soon as it started Husk said. Some observers heard' an explosion in the building just prior to the fire. I heard an explosion and then saw flames shooting out of the windows a young man who was across the street said. So I ran inside and told Zack (Zack Jones who was renovating part of the building into a night club) the building was on fire.
Jones and several friends were in the store front of the building (formerly occupied by the S and H Green Stamp store) working when they heard noises in the back of the building. I heard noise like someone was moving furniture or something and opened a door leading to the back and there was smoke coming out one of the workers said.
The group then left the building But before we made it all the way out the first floor ceiling had burst into flames she added. Minutes later fire men arrived on the scene. They began combating the blaze from the west side and had to recruit several by standers to assist in getting hoses off the truck.
They were hampered by power lines which crackled and twisted about. One line caught fire burned through and fell to the ground, sending sparks flying. The situation was eased when a Monongahela Power Co. lineman braved the heat and climbed a utility pole to disconnect remaining lines.
After 30 minutes the blaze was obviously out of control and the building a total loss and the fire fighters turned their attentions to keeping the fire from spreading to neighboring buildings. Soon after the roof fell in sending sparks and hot embers into the street The walls then buckled. First the west wall and then the north wall fell. scattering firemen and making the task more difficult An explosion took place almost immediately after the top stories tumbled to the street ripping through the boarded up front of the building and shattering what was left of the building's windows.
Pringle and Police Chief C. L. Plum elected tok nock down what was left of the walls when they became a threat to nearby buildings. A crane was called in to do the job and when it was through only a portion of one wall was standing above the first floor. Evacuation of the offices adjoining took place with the help of volunteers who carried out furniture and put it across the street out of reach of the flames. One of the offices evacuated was Richard Pence's, the owner of the now destroyed building. Six units of the city fire department were at the scene and a crew from Belpre manned the No. 1 station.
Two firemen were injured. One was hit by a falling brick and the other received a burned hand. Both were treated at the scene and returned to action. Pringle said the fire started in the west rear of the building. Investigators were at the scene the following day sifting through the rubble trying to find some clue concerning the cause of the fire We'll definitely be working through the weekend and until some break in the case comes, Husk said. We're back at scratch again. The investigation will have to start all over. Evidence points to arson since traces of an accelerant were found in the debris.
Both the Police Department and the Fire Department were involved in the investigation and the prosecuting attorney's office had been called into join the probe. Police Sgt. Larry Gibson, Fred Boyd from the prosecuting attorney's office and Harold Barnhouse, fire department investigator were working with Husk on the investigation. A pumper and four firemen from the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department stood by at Station 1 to assist in case fire occurred elsewhere in the city. One city fIreman remained at the station assigned to run with the Belpre company.
Men and equipment from the Vienna, PMBS, Lubeck and other volunteer fire departments offered assistance and were on stand by call. The building was erected in the late 1800s as a factory to make horse drawn carriages, replacing a carriage factory that had been destroyed by fire.
The building was owned by the Randolph Logan family and later the Logan brothers Henry, Thomas and Sam operated the carriage factory. Later uses included a Ford agency by Stout and Dils in the early 1900s, a Dodge agency operated by the Logan family, an Oldsmobile agency in the 1920s and early 1930s, and a Hudson car agency. For some time the building housed the Royal Furniture Store, one of three furniture stores owned by the late C. Z. Ruth.
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